Posting Intermittency — HyperCard R.I.P.

The frequency of posts is about to diminish.  I’ve got to learn a new program, and its programming (scripting) language to shift my current database to it.  I started using HyperCard when it came out in the fall of 1987, using it for all the notes I took on my reading in various areas.  You can even draw chemical structures with it, but not easily.   It’s a marvelous program and I’d be using it still if Apple still supported it (something they’ve not done in a decade).  When I was in practice, I ran its business side using it.  It’s extremely easy to program, user friendly , enough so that I wrote my own billing software, saving a bundle.   When Apple moved to Intel processors, Hypercard didn’t move with it, and so I had to buy 2 old machines using the PowerPC and OS 9.  The first versions of OS X had a classic mode which still supported Hypercard on the PowerPC.  The newer versions of OS X will not.  Machines eventually fail and I’m not about to have all the work I’ve put in, fail with it.

The database  contains 14,093 cards in the Xref stack, which is basically text, 18,892 cards in the index stack, and 7658 in the Glossary stack.  The great thing about Hypercard is that it lets you link two cards in any stack together by buttons.  Why is this great?  Because science progresses by the unexpected.  No one would have thought that the gene for narcolepsy would be related to appetite, but it is.  All it takes is a button to link the two cards with information about either together.  So the index stack has 47,498 buttons, xref 34,282 and glossary 11572, bringing the total number of cards and buttons to a glorious 133,995.  The whole shebang takes up 72 megaBytes on Disk.

This sort of thing was foreseen years ago in a great book called “Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway” by Clifford Stoll.  His point, is that storing things digitally is a con, as programs and their formats are no longer supported.  It certainly happened to me, although it’s been a great 24 years.  He also wrote another very good book called the “Cuckoo’s Egg” about how, as a graduate student in Astrophysics, he came across a few accounting errors in the accounts he was called to manages — pennies only, as I remember. It led to the discovery of a ring stealing all sorts of money from accounts all over the world.  It’s well written and funny.

So I’ve decided to learn FileMaker Pro, which also has a scripting language and which appears powerful enough to do so.  I went to a training session today which introduced the basics, and was very pleased to see that the Broad Institute (of human genome project fame) and Tufts NeuroScience sent 3 people.  The program has been around a long time (in computer time, that is) and hopefully will continue.  I’ve found “FileMaker Pro 11, The Missing Manual”quite helpful, although I’ve only worked through 70 or so of its 800+ pages.

I’ve already figured out how to get the text content of the various fields stacks and the scripts of the buttons of my HyperCard stacks into a plain text file which I can simply schlep over to the newer Apples.    Now I have to learn the scripting language of FileMaker Pro to get this data into a Filemaker database (which won’t be hard to construct, since it will mimic the functionality of the old one).  If anyone out there knows of  a (free) good source explaining the FileMaker Pro scripting language, rather than just listing the commands and syntax, please  let me know.  While you can learn a new language from a dictionary, there are better ways to do it.  Today’s training session already set me back $300 (well worth it though !), and FileMaker Pro Advanced will be $500.

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  • SrinivasaKettenbruch  On July 23, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    “Machines eventually fail”

    Not very often—your PowerPC machines should last for decades, and can always be easily replaced if they do have a hardware problem. However, HARD DISKS always fail sooner or later, so keep backups, and simply restore to a new disk.

    • bocah  On July 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

      It seems that way but batteries fail, edge connectors corrode and stop working, power supplies stop supplying power… I’ve avoided this problem over 30+ years of computing by following one simple rule: never depend on any file format I can’t open in a text editor.

      • luysii  On July 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm

        Bocah — The problem with what you say, is that in ’87 when HyperCard came out, it was essentially the only game in town. At the time, I was trying to write a text editor in 68000 assembler. I didn’t care what format HyperCard used, it saved a huge amount of work, and HyperCard had Apple running interference for me. Had they continued to support the program, I’d probably never switch, but the handwriting is on the wall.

        Currently, I’m plowing through “FileMaker Pro 11 The Missing Manual” — it’s good. You download databases from the book’s website and play with them learning the lingo. FileMaker Pro 11 has a lot more bells and whistles than I’m going to need.

        I’m definitely going to have to program in it (write scripts), but I’ve been doing that in HyperTalk (another scripting language) since ’87.

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