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Poor people's transfer sheets using a Random Part of a Second-Hand Memex

21 May 2012

Dear friend,

I just want to tell you about a cool use for the Random Part of a Second-Hand Memex you were introduced to in the last days.

It sometimes happens that you want to build something and realize that you already have some of the parts. Think about boilerplate sentences in official mail, or snippets of code you sometimes reuse. Some software, like OmniGraffle allow to group these commonly employed parts in what they call stencils (we'll call them transfer sheets). Stencils are just documents whose parts can be easily accessible from every document within the application. The beloved Klik and Play and its sequels also provide such things. It's very convenient when building something complicated. However, this feature isn't built into many applications. Invoking an outstanding amount of Sainte-Force, we can leverage our Random Part of a Second-Hand Memex to get the same feature anywhere. Even cooler, we can specify transfer sheets for a whole class of documents (represented by their default application) or for a particular document.

The example I'll use to illustrate how to realize this great feature is a bit more common for us, builders of our own future, than the boilerplate formulas so common to the lower classes of our society : the creation of road signs. Like every good citizen, you like to pimp your private roads with ostentatious signs. The background shapes and symbols for road signs are nonetheless very common and it may seem tedious and error-prone to draw the same shape from scratch every time. Like every good citizen, you want to design your custom road signs with Keynote, or any other presentation software, as it offers good support for drawing and arranging shapes.

An extravagant road sign similar to those we like to design in our free time.
An extravagant road sign similar to those we like to design in our free time.

The next time you design a road sign, dear reader, please copy the most used parts to a file called Road signs and put it anywhere you want. This will be your transfer sheet. Once you've done a new kind of frequently used background shape, copy it to the transfer sheet ! And when you want to create a new road sign, open the transfer sheet. The trick, here, is to use a link to easily retrieve the transfer sheet when you want it. What more natural ?

You can associate this transfer sheet to the application. Doing so is very simple. Just drag Keynote's icon to the Random Part of a Second-Hand Memex (if you drag it from the Dock, remember to hold the ⌥ modifier key during the operation). This simple gesture will allow you to see all the links coming from (and going to) the Keynote application. You will then add the transfer sheet to the outbound link list by dragging the file into the list. You can even set a special type, like transfer sheet, for this brand new link, so that you can easily find it by sorting the list by link type. This video demonstrates how to build an overelaborate road sign using such a transfer sheet. You easily imagine how to keep custom transfer sheets next to a particular document.

Several transfer sheets kept close to where they're useful.
Several transfer sheets kept close to where they're useful.

The cool thing with this method is that you're not restricted to the usual document type. A transfer sheet for presentations can also be a text file (like an outline of a commonly used structure). What would be cooler, but isn't likely to happen soon, may be that instead of copying those road sign parts, you could inherit from prototypal road sign parts, in a way similar to prototype-oriented programming. Alas, we would need something like a common document representation to make this happen.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Hubert Sainte-Force