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Origin of the Preen Orb

In 1978 I attended an electronics tradeshow with my father and saw an Apple II computer displaying a collage of overlapping colored boxes.  Every second or so, the computer added a new rectangle in a vibrant color display; much more impressive than the low resolution black and white graphics of Radio Shack’s TRS-80

My father was and still is a gadget nut who wanted the latest and greatest toy. In 1978 the best “toys” were personal computers, and the best computer was the Apple II.   My father bought the Apple along with two computer chips to expand the Apple’s 16 kilobytes memory to an incredible 48 kilobytes which could store another  ten pages of written text.

As an “experienced” programmer having already written a TI-59 calculator “program,” I learned the basic programming language and started to write my first Apple computer game. I called it “Galsec.” Arrow keys replaced mouse controls to take the user through a series of interactive space adventures. I enhanced the graphics with a rotating three-dimensional pyramid which I designed from equations I had just learned in high school trigonometry. When the game inevitably killed one of the players, the computer typed a condolence letter one character at a time on a white screen complete with the click sounds from an unseen “manual typewriter.”

The game was perfect until I added one too many adventures. After running a test, dots appeared on the screen, flashing different colors in a seemingly random pattern. When I looked at my code to see what could have caused the mysterious dots, I discovered that a large chunk of my code had vanished.  After spending an hour or so re-typing the lost code, I re-ran the program. Once again, random colored dots appeared, and the new code disappeared. 

I eventually learned that the Apple II stores its programming code at the bottom of memory and expands upward as you write more lines. In the middle is the graphics screen, just below data memory. If you write too much code, it grows into the graphics screen memory area, causing the colored dots to appear. When my game painted the screen black, it erased the lines of code. And that bug was the inspiration for the multi-colored, ever-changing, object replicating Preen Orb.