Tips and Tricks for the ST Owner
Compiled by Heidi Brumbaugh,
START Programs Editor
To Backslash or not to Backslash
Often you must type in filenames rather than use a selector box, and you've probably seen filenames such as A:\FRED.TXT. What is that backslash in the filename and why is it important? Essentially, the backslash tells the computer to look for the file in the root directory of that drive. If there is no backslash, the computer will look for the file in the last directory accessed in that drive. If you are using a command line interpreter (CLI) it can be useful to access files quickly in the subdirectory of another drive, but generally it's a good habit to use the backslash when you know that the file is in the root directory.
Flash!'s translation table feature comes in handy if you want to secure your online account password. If you select your equivalents carefully enough (for example, by exchanging the positions of the vowels) you can create a password whose translated equivalent is also a real word. That way anyone peeking at your macro file wouldn't realize that the code was encrypted.
J*kers are Wild
Ever heard the term "wildcard" used in connection with computers and wondered what deuces and one-eyed jacks had to do with silicon chips? Wildcards are usually used in search operations, a common computer application. They give you the option of searching for words or groups of words that have the same general characteristics.
There are two standard wildcards used on most computer systems: a question mark (?) and an asterisk or "star" (* ). When the computer sees a question mark in a wildcard search it will replace the question mark with any single character. An asterisk is replaced with any number of characters. For example, if you search for S?T the computer might return SIT, SAT or SET. If you search for S*T the computer could return anything from SIT to SALIENT. Wildcards are supported on many word processors and database managers. On the ST you've most certainly seen them used in the GEM item selector; the path specification line "A:\*. *" simply tells the computer to list all the files on the A drive.
Take over the World
Empire, a strategy wargame from Interstel (distributed by Electronic Arts), encourages you to take over the world battling either a computerized or human opponent. You build armies, ships and fighter planes and give orders each round to each unit in turn. This game can be a lot of fun, but a problem crops up when a troop transport ship's turn occurs after the turns of the army troops it is carrying. The computer will skip the troops' turns while you are en route, so that once you're in position to attack a city you have to wait until the next round to strike your fatal blow. If the city is hostile, this could leave your transport a sitting duck. You can avoid this problem if your transport is traveling along a land mass by giving the troops orders to unload a round before you reach the target city. When the troops' turns come up simply tell them to wait until you move the transport into position.
Editing Resource files
Software designers try to anticipate the user's most likely choice when they design default parameters, but sometimes your most likely choice is not what they had in mind. (For example when I quit Word Writer a dialog box asks if I'm sure I want to quit; usually I am, but the default choice is No.) If the program uses a resource file you can often modify the choice yourself using a resource construction set such as K-Resource. This works particularly well if you want to change the default exit button in a dialog box so that you only have to press Return to select the option you want, rather than clicking on it. Unfortunately, most two- or three-button short alert boxes are internal to the program and can't be modified this way. Work from a backup copy of the resource file and be sure not to add or delete any objects or trees.
Got an ST trick or tip to share? We're interested in tips for the rank beginner or expert programmer, for exploring the Desktop or for getting the most out of any popular ST program. Send it to the Clipboard, START Magazine, 544 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94107.