Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pliers, Drills, Needles, and Waiting for Martha Stewart's Tears


What's Your 20, Good Buddy?

I'd blame Olivander for this one, but honestly, the seeds were planted almost two years ago with this topic that I contributed to on the D*I*Y Planner site. (I'm "Friend of Pens" in the comments section, if you're interested.) D*I*Y Planner is to organization nerds what Will Davis' site is to typewriter freaks: enabling pr0n of the worst order. And reading about these mysterious edge-punched cards intrigued me and the budding retro-nut lurking within.

The idea is simple: with a deck of blank notecards, punch a series of holes on every card along an edge, and attach some significance or category to each hole. Say, if you were going to catalog members of your family, you might have a set of holes to represent "eye color" (blue, green, brown, gray) and some for "hair color" (red, blond, brown, black) and so on. After you fill out a card for a particular member of the family, punch out the little strip of paper remaining between the correct hole and the edge of the card. Here's a photo of a very elaborate card, with the holes labeled. See how some of them are punched clean through to the edge?

Now for the magic: when you want to find a set of "things" in your cards -- all the blue-eyed redheads, for instance -- you slip in a long needle through the holes, and lift up the deck. All the cards that fall out match your criteria, because the needle passed through the slot you've punched. Matching multiple criteria? Easy! Just keep cutting down the deck of "dropped" cards. Do one pass for eye color, and then one for hair color. Or do two passes and combine the results for something like "anyone with blue or green eyes." Or even really fancy stuff like "blue or green-eyed people who do not have brown hair."

It's elegant, and certainly beats flipping through endless stacks of cards. I suggested this application to Olivander, and he's run with it, repurposing old spiral-bound notebook dividers and cutting them down to form his own, one-edge-punched cards. He's even color-coded the assortment, and I'm sure he'll be gracing us with photographs any day now. *cough*

Needless to say, I'm completely jealous that he gets to have a real use for this system, while I've been pining away for years now, hoping to find something to do with this idea. Pining until now.

I'm taking a lot of inspiration from this page, which was linked to from the D*I*Y article, discussing the use of these cards in novel-planning. Novel planning. On index cards. Now where have I heard that before? And oh yes, do I have an organization problem. Once a month I shake out the box and clip all the loose cards to the pile that represents "a bunch of related ideas that might make a story." This is tedious, and dull, and doesn't really get me anywhere, but it would be worse if I waited a whole year to do it.

But now, ah ha! I can be tedious and dull and play with sharp objects at the same time. I followed the site's suggestion to get spiral-bound index cards and use pliers to remove the wire, but all the cards I can find now are perforated "for easy removal." Feh. Luckily, Staples does spiral-binding (as do most other print-service places, I'm sure) and for a penny a page, they will happily offer "drilling service" to run a nice, neat edge of holes down the side of the cards -- spiral binding sans spiral, in other words. It took the clerk about three minutes to do the pack of 100, and they're far neater and smaller than I could hope to make on my own. And -- added bonus -- a U.S. size 4 knitting needle is a perfect fit down the center of the holes. The machine puts four holes to the inch, which means I've got twenty overall "things" I could use for tagging the cards. And so I've been thinking:
  • Devote some holes to indicate which character the card is about: Main Character, Secondary Character #1, #2, #3
  • For cards not about characters, I could have: Scene, Background, Plot Point, MacGuffin
  • Maybe some descriptive terms to be applied to the other holes: History, Motivation, Secrets, Quirks, Sketch/Map
That's thirteen holes right there. There's a system (actually, several) developed to help make cards sortable, too, usually by having a numbered range of holes like 1,2,4,7 and then using the sum of holes to represent a number. (3 = 2+1, 6 = 4+2, etc.) It's possible to have the cards order themselves, just by various passes through with the needles. I could use the other seven holes for something like that. If I truly run out of room, I'll have the clerk punch up two sides next time.

And this leaves me with Martha Stewart. Ideally, it would be easy to find a suitable hole punch to make that magical gap between hole-and-edge. If you looked at the sample picture, you can see that the notches are actually V-shaped. A plain, round-hole punch cuts out too much paper (I tried) and there's surprising little variety available locally. Not all of us are married to wildly prodigious paper-crafters who no doubt have the Exact Perfect Tool on-hand for this sort of thing. Some of us have to slum it up with Martha Stewart, or at least on the person hawking her goods on eBay. If this works out, that poor Staples clerk better be prepared to offer a bulk discount, because otherwise these things start looking pretty sweet.


Olivander said...

Consider this a reply to your last e-mail on the subject.

I've been a little sidetracked with another project and haven't worked on my coding scheme much. I need to lay out my sort criteria beforehand so that I will know exactly how many codes are needed per field (no point dedicating four holes to a field that has five or fewer choices). This will help me make the most efficient use of the 21 holes available to me and maximize the number of sort fields.

I like your suggestion of minimizing false drops by keeping to the highest, unambigous numbers, but I think I will stick to McBee's "2 out of 5" system and add a single null position that can be used across all fields. That eliminates several redundant holes right there.

I've scoured every craft shop in town and have been unable to find a suitably small triangular punch. The best I can come up with is a rectangular punch, which may work. Otherwise, one can always resort to scissors and the ol' snip-snip.

On edge-notching as novel planning: for those who use Jer's Novel Writer for their character, place, and plot planning (it has a terrific slide-out database), this would be the perfect paper-based alternative if you want to untether yourself from the computer.

So is this co-dependent enabling, or what?

mpclemens said...

I have one of those rectangle punches, and to put it politely, it's complete shite. Maybe I got a bad one, but the thing leaves terrible hanging chads all over the place, and the rectangle it punches out is far too narrow for the needle -- I'd need to make two punched per hole, which defeats the purpose. I'm hoping Speegle chimes in here and tells us what Mrs. Speegle recommends.

The craft store here sells circles of various sizes, a heart-shape (perfect! except the heart is the wrong-way-round) and that rectangle. I looked online for punches that make diamond shapes (like card suits) or even an upward-pointing triangle (no luck) but the "teardrop" sounds about perfect, if it's oriented the proper way with pointy-end-up. I'll report when it comes in.

Mike Speegle said...

She did indeed come up with a response, but it includes visual aids. Check it here.

Monda said...

Wow. I feel certain every last card would end up at the bottom of my purse covered in lipstick blottings.

I'll never be as organized as you.