Both of these writings help explain the die-hard DNA that sits at the core of
Panic's genetic code -- a true passion for what we do. The first essay, written by Steve,
holds up remarkably well as an ode to a great, imaginative company. The second essay, mine,
is a bit dated (did I say "Performa"?), but really helps explain why we love Apple so much.
Put simply, Stephen King's work in these two pieces is so spine-chillingly twisted that you'll be sleeping with the lights on.
And with a stick. For the monsters.
Oh wait, wrong preface. Er.. we hope you enjoy our early writing! -Cabel
, Panic co-founder
THE GEEKY LITTLE BOY
THE FAN LETTER
It's nostalgia time!
I was about eleven years old during my Apple II+ heyday. Somewhere in this
time frame I was thumbing through the latest issue of inCider magazine when
I noted with excitement the latest advertisement from Beagle Bros. Micro
I don't generally get a rush from print ads, but there was just something
about them. Standing amidst the promotional copy were these old-fashioned,
Victorian style, wood-cut looking figures who mysteriously carried around
placards or signs with short BASIC programs on them.
The beauty of it was, if you typed these programs into your Apple II and
ran them, they actually did something cool.
Talk about successful targeting, not only did I stop to read their ads, I
propped them up beside my computer and typed in the listings quickly
because I couldn't wait to see what happened. You never knew exactly what
you were going to get. I remember one program listing printed on the side
of a bird that, when run, produced a series of wild chirping noises from
the Apple's speaker. And this was from a program that was only five to ten
lines long. As a neophyte BASIC programmer myself, I was stunned and
amazed. How could you make something this cool with this small amount of
I picked the programs to pieces, trying to figure out how they did their
magic. Usually it involved a lot of POKE statements, shoving values into
little-known hardware control registers, creating tiny machine language
subroutines out of thin air. Even with the program listing right there in
front of me, I still couldn't figure out how it all worked. It drove me
crazy. These guys must be geniuses.
Beagle Bros. did the impossible, even down to the tiniest details -- How'd
they switch back and forth between text and graphics mode WITHOUT the
screen getting erased? You're not supposed to be able to DO that!
I wrote a fan letter to Beagle Bros., proclaiming them demi-gods of all
things Apple. It's a testament to them that they actually took the time to
respond to a raving eleven year old. In my letter I also begged and
pleaded for a free or cheap copy of their "Shape Mechanic" graphics editing
program. I didn't get that, but a Beagle Bros. representative did point
out there was a sale on the older "Apple Mechanic" package. You can't
blame them for wanting to make a little money, and you can't blame me for
trying, since it would have required about half a year's allowance to buy
"Shape Mechanic" at the time. I did eventually get together the money to
buy it at a later date.
Beagle Bros' tools were fantastic. They literally let you do the
(allegedly) impossible, like change the names of operating system commands.
And they always packed the disks full with extra stuff. Demos of their
other products, and strange graphics hacks that existed for no reason other
than the fact that they were cool, and because there was spare room on the
disk. Beagle Bros. had a lot to do with why I ever wanted to learn
programming in the first place.
And then they released the book!
I'll never forget the book. A short time after I wrote my letter, Beagle
Bros released their book. The book was a huge compilation of all around
interesting stuff. Weird Apple II tricks that were pointless, but
endlessly fascinating. Like the fact that there were extra offscreen
pixels of lo-res graphics memory that you could write to, that never got
displayed. Or how to put "impossible" inverted or flashing characters into
your disk directory listing. Or how to modify system error messages. Not
very useful, but really fun to know and really, really cool to mess with.
My dad was convinced I was going to somehow break the computer with all
this hacking, but a simple reboot always fixed everything.
The book also reprinted the program listings from their ads in one handy
volume. And it had pages and pages of useful tips: how to execute DOS
commands from BASIC, how to prevent people from LISTing your BASIC
programs, how to make disk directory listings pause after each page, and so
I was in geek nirvana. It was an incredible book. I don't know what
happened to it, but it disappeared somewhere around the time that we sold
our faithful but aging Apple II+. I wish I still had it.
I'd be stunned if I opened a general purpose computer magazine today and
saw a BASIC program listing. I'd probably pass out if that listing was
occupying real estate in some software company's advertisement.
What happened here? When the personal computer evolved beyond hobbyist toy
to business tool, there was suddenly a new audience... the non-technical
computer user. Unheard of!
With all the advances that have been made in human interface and software
design, something had to go, and one of the things that went was an
interest in how it all works behind the scenes. Only the most hardcore of
geeks still want to know what makes it all tick. I guess that's not really
a bad thing. (It means more customers for developers like us, for one
thing!) But sometimes I miss the "good ol' days" when your computer booted
straight into BASIC and was ready to go as soon as you hit the power
switch. Most computers don't even ship with a built-in programming
language! I mean, what are you supposed to DO with these things anyway?
Another thing that seems to have disappeared is the cool software company.
Is there a Beagle Bros. of the 90's? Most seem really straight-laced and
are obsessed with "biz". There are a few with a sense of humor, of course,
but they are seldom seen and often overlooked in favor of the "serious"
companies. With the software industry being so huge now, compared to the
days of the II+, is it possible for a software company to be as personal as
Beagle Bros.? Is it still possible to build a software company that will
capture the imagination of the next generation of computer users? I don't
know. But I'd really like to find out.
As for Beagle Bros., the company itself no longer exists, to my knowledge.
However, according to Mark Simonsen, who purchased the company from Bert
Kersey (one of its founders), Beagle Bros. products are still available for
purchase from a company named Quality Computers.
I'd love to hear where Bert Kersey, Jack Cassidy, and the rest of the crew
are now, and what they're doing. (Please do send in an email if you know!)
I hope they are out there somewhere and read this, so they know that they
were someone's unlikely childhood heroes, and are in, a very indirect way,
partially responsible for the formation of Panic, Inc.
(Note: Since writing this article, I have tracked down some information
about the current whereabouts of former Beagles. If you are interested,
check out the Beagle
, Panic co-founder
As developers, there was never really any question. Sitting in a cafe and
discussing our new company and business plan (really more of a business
"napkin" at the time), we made the decision that our first product was
going to be Macintosh only, and that was that. End of discussion, case
closed. We then got terribly frightened and ran around trying to justify
our decision, like a vegan giving into a little bite of Extra Tasty
Crispy. We knew it was the right thing. We didn't know why it was the
right thing. But we were excited about the right thing.
To make a potentially blah-blah story short, it took us three months --
with no prior Macintosh development experience -- to make the first beta
of Verso. (Ease of development.) We received over 1,000 downloads the
first day we put up beta one. (Attention in the marketplace, not
over-saturated.) Our beta-testers were first rate and suggested a lot of
neat ideas (More attentive, eager users.) Of course, that didn't help us
sell the program to any publishers (Tarn-sarnit.) But we've got another
program coming out soon, and we think Mac people will be just as excited
and responsive as they were with Verso.
OPPOSITE OF MACINTOSH
As a company, we're die hard Mac-heads. When we go to CompUSA (the world's
brightest computer store) and the display Performas are demoing that
exciting, Gouraud shaded, 3D-graphics filled multi-media application called
"Sorry, a system error has occured", we gently coax the machine into
something more exciting like Marathon 2. And crank the volume. If we
overhear a platform-decision conversation, we're not afraid to butt in and
"Appleappleapple" like we're talking in bizarre (but persuasive!)
religious tongues. Yes, some of us even have Apple static stickers in the
back of our cars, no matter how postively 1985 that may be. I did similar
things when I had an Amiga, way back when having an Amiga was like having a
Mac. And stepping back, I realize that I have to own and believe in my
computer. My computer should give me something to fight for.
My computer has to have a culture.
I have a Wintel box and a Macintosh box on my desk. I built the Wintel box
myself, the result of frequent trips to Fry's Electronics. I bought the
(stylish, let me tell you) case and the motherboard and the disk drive and
the SIMMs and the graphics
card and the sound card and a few cases of Coke (and a toothbrush because
it was right there by the cash register and I couldn't resist). I spent
the next few days cursing like a drunken, legless French sailor as I
struggled with the always-classic IRQ's and DMA's. And jumpers. And little
tiny screws that caused my hands to bleed from hundreds of annoying
microscopic cuts. And when I was done, I had a Pentium 100. Honestly, I
enjoyed putting the machine together, and fighting with technical support,
and downloading drivers. And honestly, I've enjoyed watching the machine
gather dust and do nothing. Seriously, it just sits there. I install new
apps, and it still sits there. I install games (and I return them) and it
still sits there. I keep using my Macintosh, and relishing my Macintosh,
and appreciating it even more.
I've come to the conclusion that Windows and PC fanatics are suffering
from the "Ewwww!" effect. Let me elaborate: remember in science class?
Someone would invariably wind up making this god-awful, nasty concoction
that utterly destroyed their sense of smell because they forgot to "woft"
instead of sniff. And what would they do the second after they created
pure stanky and singed the interior of their schnoz? "Hey, man, smell this!". And
you'd smell it, wouldn't you? And you'd go "Ewwww!" and not smell again
for a week. Didn't matter that you knew it stunk. You had to experience
the stink for yourself. And the stink became a bond between you and the
stinkee. You shared a common experience, like rambling war veterans, a
common hell that you'd laugh about in 6th period, and write in the
yearbook next to "Have a great summer!".
Wintel users appear to have never grown out of the "Ewwww!"-bonding phase.
Wintel users share this Windosian hell, and relate to each other through
this hell. One Wintel fanatic friend of mine -- a consumate graphics
professional -- refuses to purchase a Macintosh machine. Instead, he
purchased a Sony "It's purple, okay?" Vaio, because he likes tinkering
with his PC. He said he'd miss DOS and IRQ's and DMA's. It's his car, his
piston and valve and whateverthehellelse is in a car. This is why Wintel
fanatics love Wintel. Sadomasochism.
It's not to say that Panic, as a company, will shy away from making a
Windows application. Hey, if it rakes in the big bucks, we'll do it! But
we'll always be Macintosh first, and Macintosh at heart. The users are
consistently more supportive, intelligent, less likely to use ALL CAPS in
beta reports, and excited about products. I mean, our next product is an
FTP program, for gods sake. Not exactly pure applicationary sex, but
because our product is the best FTP program the Macintosh has ever seen
(hey, it's my job to plug) and takes a fresh approach, loads of people
have expressed interest with little press. That's what we love, and that's
why we're glad we went with our intuition.
The Mac, truly, rules. Any developer that says otherwise has forgotten
what it means to love computers.