Mitch Waite

Computer book author, publisher, web designer, and entrepreneur

1989 – Tricks of the HyperTalk Masters

I was so inspired by Apple’s HyperCard software that I became a computer book author again. Because of this, I let many corporate rules slide, quickly creating problems for the employees. Issues arose that often seemed petty to me but had to be dealt with. I did my best. But I would much rather dream up extraordinary ideas for HyperCard stacks, write chapters, and show how to unleash HyperCard’s magic.

Time Travel to 1985

Imagine a world without web browsers like Chrome or Safari, where tech-savvy nerds and academics rule the Internet. Windows has just entered the scene, albeit with complexities in its setup. Though garnering a fervent following, Apple’s Macintosh still grapples with its lofty promise of user-friendliness amidst its hefty price tag. Publishers were not having luck with books on the Mac because its user base was so small. Smartphones were a distant dream, and Wi-Fi, while announced, is a challenge to implement.

Yet, amid this technological landscape, the seeds of inspiration were sown, as evident in Steve Jobs’ visionary approach to the Mac’s Graphical User Interface—where metaphors like the iconic trash can symbolize file deletion.

For enthusiasts like myself, Steve tapped into a yearning for a paradigm shift in how we interact with computers—a desire for tools that transcend mere text input, unlocking a realm where software could captivate and delight users. This mantra of pushing boundaries resonates deeply, echoing throughout the tech community. Amidst this enthusiasm, Apple stands at the forefront, exploring new frontiers for computing post-Macintosh.

In a masterful stroke, one such endeavor led by Bill Atkinson and his team harbored a revolutionary concept that would challenge conventional programming wisdom and redefine the very essence of software development.

Script Along with Mitch

Bill Atkinson and his team crafted a masterpiece he called HyperCard. With its unique stacks of digital cards and the intuitive HyperTalk scripting language, HyperCard wasn’t merely an app but a leap into what felt like a new digital era. It was Apple’s secret sauce in the brewing and surpassing the competition of Windows PCs.

For the first time, Apple created a computer programming platform built first for artists, musicians, and graphic designers and set up the programming language to support these professionals.

The multimedia angle and the way the HyperTalk script language worked with it came at the perfect time. I became Bill Atkinson’s groupie overnight since he seemed so tuned in to what nerds like myself want. Steve Jobs was 100% supporting him and the HyperCard team, which made me love this software even more. I wanted to be an author for this project and work on the content. When my team heard that, there was a universal groan.

HyperCard Verses BASIC

The Waite Group had established a reputation for teaching BASIC, but the language seriously lacked ways to code visual experiences. With BASIC, you must create your drawing routines, understand the complexity of pixel-based displays, and unravel the confusing techniques for coloring those pixels.

Apple’s HyperCard and its HyperTalk scripting language removed these obstacles by putting drawing at the forefront of the language. It simplified programming by using simple English sentences rather than unwieldy symbolic statements. It used the fundamental concept of “stacks” of cards to host your programs. You could get these cards to talk to each other through simple statements.

Let’s Write Two Books

Given these fantastic features, HyperCard greatly inspired me, and as I explored its excellent features, my creative juices were boiling with ideas. In a short time, I had two book concepts that would fit perfectly in our growing portfolio and be fun to create: 1) HyperTalk Bible and 2) Tricks of the HyperTalk Masters.

The HyperTalk Tricks book was a rare opportunity to create a table of contents that would excite me, which meant it would excite other developers and make it easier to find authors.
After a deep dive into HyperCard and its HyperTalk scripting language, I developed a collection of ideas to show off its power, extend its feature set, and amplify its existing features. See Table-1 Tricks Table of Contents. The hard part would be finding writers with the skills to combine the content.

Little Known HyperCard Factoids

LSD and Bill: Bill Atkinson drew inspiration for HyperCard from an LSD experience, where the concept of connected information nodes clicked visually for him.

Wildcard Codename: HyperCard was developed under the codename “Wildcard,” allowing Atkinson to work on it somewhat under the radar.

Pre-Internet Social Networking: HyperCard stacks were shared person-to-person or via BBS systems, forming an informal social network before widespread Internet use.

The Home Stack: HyperCard’s “Home” stack served as a welcoming space and tutorial, albeit with an eccentric design that could feel chaotic.

Playful Hand Pointer: HyperCard featured a playful hand pointer, adding personality to the experience as it changed to tools for browsing, editing, and manipulating objects.

Whimsical Sound Effects: HyperCard was accompanied by retro sound effects like bloops and chirps, enhancing the playful and quirky feel.

HyperTalk’s Readable Syntax: HyperTalk aimed for readability, resembling plain English, to lower the barrier to entry for users.

“Animal” Mascots: Internal development versions of HyperCard referenced whimsical animal mascots like “Renegade” and “Platypus.”

Creative Constraints: Early HyperCard versions had memory and storage limits, leading developers to find ingenious workarounds, such as creating visual effects through rapid card background flipping.

Passionate Users: HyperCard attracted a diverse user base of artists, musicians, teachers, and hobbyists, showcasing unique creativity in software.

Stack Exchange Culture: Users shared their HyperCard creations through BBS and physical disk-swapping, fostering a vibrant community of interactive fiction and databases.

LiveCode: LiveCode is a modern equivalent to HyperCard, featuring a visual, card-based approach and a language inspired by HyperTalk. Based in the UK (Scotland).

Escaping Corporate Demands

Of the 18 chapters in Tricks of the HyperTalk Masters, I wrote two and coauthored a third. These are marked in purple in the table. Most importantly, I had to come to terms with the limits of my writing efficiency. As much as I loved technology and writing about it, my days running a company as a CEO were sucked up by a host of new responsibilities. Working with new technology and programming languages was fun but a luxury I could only indulge lightly. Much of my energy was spent exploring new areas for computer books and creating proposals to sell to publishers. The other big chunk of time was managing our employees. Being an author and CEO was turning out to be a real challenge.

PolyButtons

Once I had the table of contents for the Tricks book, I created the draft of an outline for HyperTalk Bible. Creating outlines was reasonably straightforward since we had a precise algorithm for Bibles, and HyperTalk was easy to learn. I recruited one of our best authors, Steve Prata (C Primer Plus, Unix Bible), and found Ted Jones, a new author already experienced in HyperTalk. My chapter was called PolyButtons and described how to create a multisided button to capture mouse clicks on irregular surfaces you wrap it around. The only buttons that existed at the time for HyperCard were rectangular. For example, if you wanted a map of the United States and a button to capture when a state has been clicked, you needed a many-sided button that would wrap around the irregular shapes of many states. At the time, there were no built-in tools to set this up in HyperCard, so it seemed like a project many programmers could use. One love of writing came from the collaboration it offered. I could not figure out the algorithm for programming a multisided button. My friend John Ferguson, sharp electronics engineer and UC Berkeley graduate, who I saw daily at the Café Triest in Sausalito, showed me how simple it was. “You just need a crossing algorithm to know if a line from the click crosses the side.” See the chapter 6, page 199, PolyButtons, for exactly how it’s done.

Hayden the Publisher

Hayden Books, a new division of Howard Sams, became known as a critical publisher of books about home computers and programming languages in the early days of the personal computer revolution. They were mainly known for their extensive books teaching BASIC programming, the most common language for hobbyists then. Waite Group had a strong reputation for titles on BASIC, making Hayden a good match. In the late 1980s, Prentice Hall bought Hayden, and eventually, Hayden became part of the giant Pearson in the UK.

TABLE OF CONTENTS – TRICKS OF THE HYPERTALK MASTERS

Chapter NameDescriptionAuthor(s)
Techniques for Stack DevelopmentNotes from the Scripting BattlefieldsJeanne DeVoto
ScrollJumpJumping Through a Stack GentlyMitchell Waite
Dueling ScrollSynchronizing Multiple Scrolling FieldsMitchell Waite and Ted Jones
Quick Pop-Up FieldsHyperText Pop-Ups With a Twist
Draggable, Tear-Off, Auto-Positioning Menus
Jack A. Smith
PolyButtonsCreating Nonrectangular ButtonsMitchell Waite and Ted Jones
Animated Icons and CursorsSeamless Animation with Icons and CursorsJeremy John Ahouse
Animated Fonts32,000 Graphic Layers Await YouMitchell Waite
The Art of Visual EffectsCreate a Look and Feel That DazzlesJeanne DeVoto
Synching Sight and SoundFrom Sound Effects to Music VideosMitchell Waite
Developer’s Tool KitUtilities and Scripts for Better ScriptingAndrew Stone
The Quiz MakerCreate Self-Administering and Self-Grading ExamsAndrew Stone
HyperAnimalsA Game That Learns from the PlayerJoseph F. Buchanan
A Grab Bag of UtilitiesSnapshots, Printing, Dialer, and MoreTed Jones
ChaufferA HyperCard-to-CompuServe Front EndNick Hodge
Benchmarking HyperTalkUnveiling HyperCard PerformanceMark Zimmerman
Large StacksSpeeding Up Large StacksSteven F. Martin
Extending HyperCard with ExternalsFilling “Holes” with XCMDs and XFCNsDavid P. Sumner

TABLE OF CONTENTS – TRICKS OF THE HYPERTALK MASTERS

Chapter NameDescriptionAuthor(s)
Techniques for Stack DevelopmentNotes from the Scripting BattlefieldsJeanne DeVoto
ScrollJumpJumping Through a Stack GentlyMitchell Waite
Dueling ScrollSynchronizing Multiple Scrolling FieldsMitchell Waite and Ted Jones
Quick Pop-Up FieldsHyperText Pop-Ups With a Twist
Draggable, Tear-Off, Auto-Positioning Menus
Jack A. Smith
PolyButtonsCreating Nonrectangular ButtonsMitchell Waite and Ted Jones
Animated Icons and CursorsSeamless Animation with Icons and CursorsJeremy John Ahouse
Animated Fonts32,000 Graphic Layers Await YouMitchell Waite
The Art of Visual EffectsCreate a Look and Feel That DazzlesJeanne DeVoto
Synching Sight and SoundFrom Sound Effects to Music VideosMitchell Waite
Developer’s Tool KitUtilities and Scripts for Better ScriptingAndrew Stone
The Quiz MakerCreate Self-Administering and Self-Grading ExamsAndrew Stone
HyperAnimalsA Game That Learns from the PlayerJoseph F. Buchanan
A Grab Bag of UtilitiesSnapshots, Printing, Dialer, and MoreTed Jones
ChaufferA HyperCard-to-CompuServe Front EndNick Hodge
Benchmarking HyperTalkUnveiling HyperCard PerformanceMark Zimmerman
Large StacksSpeeding Up Large StacksSteven F. Martin
Extending HyperCard with ExternalsFilling “Holes” with XCMDs and XFCNsDavid P. Sumner

Apple’s Best Failure: the Lisa

To fully appreciate the significance of the mid-80s, one must revisit the advent of the Apple Lisa in January 1983. I greatly admired Steve Jobs, a visionary who appeared more aligned with my own than that of Bill Gates of Microsoft. I cut my baby teeth on Woz and Steve’s Apple 1, which I purchased while they were still in the garage and honed my education and writing skills on the Apple II. When Apple unveiled the Lisa, it was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface and mouse, which marked a turning point in personal computing. Its staggering price of $9,995 (equivalent to about $31,780.53 in 2024 dollars) was justified by these revolutionary features, pointing toward a new future in how we use PCs.

My professional journey as a writer took a significant leap forward at this juncture. A powerful New York agent had recently secured me a lucrative deal with New American Library: a contract to write and produce fifteen computer books. As a fiction publisher, NAL wanted to make a big splash in the rapidly growing computer book market, and The Waite Group was a sure bet. For me, still living on the Boardwalk, the venture required a transition from my houseboat-based operation to a full-scale company with an office in the city, furniture, and staff. I knew nothing about running a business, which was probably good because an accountant would have put the brakes on my enthusiasm. Buoyed by the windfall of a record-breaking million-dollar advance, I used a chunk of the advance to invest in two of the Lisa computers—one for myself and another for my newly appointed chief editor.

Despite its groundbreaking nature and my high hopes, the Lisa turned out to be less a functional personal computer and more an audacious technological experiment from Steve Jobs. It symbolized the challenges that trailblaze in technology: ambitious in concept, yet imperfect in practice. This stark contrast with the promise and excitement of HyperCard served as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of technological marvels. In the dynamic world of technology, today’s breakthrough can swiftly become a relic of the past, but the journey of innovation marches on relentlessly.

VisionPro, the Next Lisa?

In the four decades from 1983 to 2023, I have witnessed Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs and later CEO Tim Cook unleash much of the world’s most defining and widely used technology. Look at this astonishing list of accomplishments: Macintosh (1984), iMac (1998), iPod (2001), MacBook (2006), iPhone (2007); Apple TV (2007); iPad (2010), Apple Watch (2015), AirPods (2016). From the introduction of the original Macintosh, every product introduced had a “friendly” graphical user interface or GUI. 

Whether transforming the music industry with the iPod, redefining smartphones with the iPhone, popularizing tablet computing with the iPad, or becoming a leader in smartwatches with the Apple Watch, each device was controlled with a mouse or finger, a keyboard, and a high-resolution screen. This is all about to change.

Welcome to Spatial Computing

Apple is introducing the world to a brand new and exciting way to control a computer. In this new metaphor you wear a light-weight helmet and view the world through a set of high-resolution displays which are inside goggles. Apple Vision Pro (2024) seamlessly blends digital content with your physical space. Up until now these kinds of displays were called VR Glasses. In 1983 I wrote an entire book about them in Virtual Reality Creations. Apple prefers you call them Spatial Computing Glasses. When wearing them you initially see the room you are in, but as you turn an immersion dial, a unique new graphical interface materializes floating in front of you. You see the desktop of a Mac floating in space, with your environment in the background. To select any control or item on this floating GUI, you just look at it, it lights up, and you tap your thumb and index fingers together to select it. Cameras in the VisionPro are watching not just the room but also your fingers, and when it sees your index finger tap your thumb it accepts that as a click on a mouse. You can run apps in this environment and place their windows anywhere around you in your 3D space. 

The world that is presented by the VisionPro is nothing short of what science fiction has been writing about for years. The only difference is the VR glasses depicted in the movies are often size of sunglasses (Men in Black). But Apple wants to grab this new marketplace and in some ways is doing the same thing Steve Jobs did with the Lisa, introducing a new product ahead of its time, and defining a new platform and standard that all others will now have to follow 3D computers. 

Because the technology is not ready, Apple has been unable to design high quality VR glasses the size and price of sunglasses. Instead, they are introducing a $3,500 helmet product that is certainly the first of a collection of devices, from lower cost to even higher cost. Regardless of whether this product succeeds or fails, Apple VisionPro is defining a new field of spatial computing for consumers. 

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