HyperCard Corner

By Greg Raven
Volume 6 no. 3 (March 1988), page 6

I was talking with Mark Heliger at Access Publishing the other day about things Macintosh, and I asked him if he had found time yet to explore HyperCard. No, he said. I heard you need to buy that book before you can really get into it.

The book he referred to is The Complete HyperCard Handbook, by Danny Goodman. If you read the November MacDigest, you saw the rather rude treatment I accorded Mr. Goodman’s tome. The intervening months have done nothing to improve my opinion of it.

So what’s a neophyte to do? My advice would be to skip the book and concentrate on the help stack that Apple includes free of charge with every copy of HyperCard. Don’t make the mistake of becoming impatient because it looks too easy, still waters run deep. There is a lot going on in the HyperCard help stack.

To open the help stack, you can either click on it from the HyperCard home card, you can select it from the Go menu, or you can type <COMMAND><r> from whichever stack you are in. Once you are in, the temptation is to click through the cards quickly from the beginning of the stack through to the end.

A much better approach is to spend a few moments with each card. Notice the layout and how the information is presented. Press the <OPTION> and <COMMAND> keys at the same time to see where the buttons are. Select the Field tool in the Options menu and see how they laid out the fields. Select Background from the Edit menu and see which elements are common to all the cards. And whatever you do, try the examples.

The HyperCard help stack is nothing if not a rich lode of examples of what can be done using HyperCard (and HyperTalk). Some of the script examples will, after executing, automatically display the code behind the actions. No matter how well a book is written, it could never achieve this level of ease-of-use.

Another good way to experiment with HyperCard makes use of the Message Box, the <COMMAND> key, and the mouse. Even though most of the text in the HyperCard help stack is locked (so it can’t be accidentally altered), if you press the <COMMAND> key, position the mouse over a word, and click, the word will appear in the Message Box (if the Message Box is not visible when you <COMMAND>-click, it will automatically appear). If you drag the mouse along a line of text, everything you drag across on that line will be selected and put into the Message Box.

For example, if you <COMMAND>-click-drag across a line of text that reads 45*3+22 and then press <RETURN>, HyperCard would show you the answer, 157, in the Message Box. If you <COMMAND>-click-drag across a line of text that reads ask password ‘Please type password’ and then press <RETURN>, HyperCard would display the enter password dialog box in the center of the screen. This means that any interesting line of code you find in the help stack you can immediately test drive, without doing any typing.

This same technique works when you want to find other references to the same subject as the one on the card you are viewing. Press <COMMAND><F> (or select Find… from the Go menu, and then <COMMAND>-click-drag across the text you wish to search for. It will appear between the quotes in the Find Box, so all you need to do is press <RETURN>. Of course, by combining the Find… command with a little typing you can find anything else you want in the help stack.

The HyperCard help stack also offers other navigational aids, such as astericks (*) that, when clicked on, amplify the topic of the card you are viewing. There is also a complete glossary and index, and the stack itself is arranged with index tabs to facilitate the learning process.

Once you become a bit more familiar with HyperCard and the help stack, you can begin to explore deeper into intriguing buttons and fields by choosing the button or field tool, clicking on the button or field that interests you, and then examining the script.

At this point, you will find it expedient to acquire one of the many script detective stacks that is available on electronic bulletin boards such as the LAMG BBS. The one I use is called Script Reporter, and what it does is methodically go through the stack you select and list all the scripts contained in that stack, not only at the stack level, but for each background and card, as well. If you become confused when popping in and out of buttons that reside on different levels, the linear presentation of a program such as Script Reporter will provide you with a firmer understanding of what is going on in the seemingly three-dimensional world of stackware.

The bottom line is that you don’t need a thirty dollar book or an extension course at UCLA to use HyperCard. Relying solely on the HyperCard help stack, even non-programmers such as us can create useful stacks, or at least learn to modify other’s stacks so they will more closely suit our purposes.