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A page of explanation for users familiar with CAD and drawing software.
Modellers with some knowledge of trackwork but with little or no experience of computer drawing software usually find it fairly easy to grasp the basics of Templot, and soon begin printing templates and drawing track plans.
Paradoxically, users familiar with CAD drawing programs often find Templot baffling at first. The confusion arises from the misconception that Templot is simply a specialized version of such software, which is not the case.
Templot is a construction template generator for hand-built model trackwork.
The important point to understand is that Templot does the actual drawing work, not you. For example, your first instinct might be to draw a wavy line on the screen with the mouse, in the hope that it might somehow be converted into a length of track. This is not the way that Templot works.
What Templot needs from you is the specification for the length of track, which it will then generate and draw for you.
Such a length of track is called a template, and a complete track plan is comprised of a collection of discrete templates, arranged on the drawing area in the desired alignment with each other, in much the same way that paper templates would be fitted together on the baseboard of a model railway.
What appears on the screen to be a single track drawing, is in fact a collection of separate template drawings. Some may be several yards long, others only an inch or two, according to the needs of the design. Each one has a name and ID number, and a separate entry in the storage box. The intention is that each one will eventually be individually printed full-size as a construction template, since this is the primary purpose of Templot, not simply the design of layouts.
All the track design work which you do in Templot will be with whole templates like this, there are no other component objects in Templot. If you want separate track parts such as an individual check rail or timber, these are created by having a full template and simply blanking out or omitting all the other parts from it.
The specification required for each template includes such information as:
•Gauge, scale and flangeway standards.
•Prototype details such as rail lengths and sleeper sizes and spacings.
•Sizes and angles of switches and crossings.
•Style of timbering layout.
•Curving line radius or transition curve radii.
•Position and orientation on the drawing area.
The specification can be set up by entering data directly or by clicking menu options, but most of the time you will set the specification for the next template simply by adjusting the details from a previous one. You do this by means of mouse actions, which continuously re-generate the control template as you change the settings by moving the mouse.
This is the reason for the presence of the control template on the screen at start-up, which some users expecting to start with a blank work area find unsettling. Although you can easily hide it temporarily (HOME key or ENTER key), there is always a control template on the trackpad window, representing the current output from the generator using the current template specification settings. It is not part of your track plan drawing until you make a copy of it on the background.
But you can print it out as a construction template as it stands, so that when using "trim-and-fit" design methods with paper templates, there is no need to create a background drawing at all.
Some users may regard the design of complete layouts on-screen as the primary purpose of Templot, but this is in fact a supplementary function, which some modellers may find too demanding or time-consuming.
The prime purpose is to print out full-size construction templates in infinite variety, so that you can start building track on them. If you have ever tried to curve ready-printed commercial templates by slitting and notching them like a fishbone, you will know how fiddly that can be. Now you can print out a long turnout or length of plain track on a perfect radius or sweeping transition curve with just a few clicks. Don't lose sight of this advantage while struggling to design the perfect railway on-screen.
An area in which Templot differs from much Windows software is in the handling of files. In Templot there is no concept of an "open" file or document. Templot comes from an earlier tradition of computing in which there is a rigid distinction between data in volatile RAM memory (your storage box), and data in non-volatile memory on a disk drive (your data files).
In Templot you load data from a file, and save data to a file. The files exist only on the disk drive. The drawing which you may be seeing on the screen is not a file, it does not have a file name, and there is no "close" or "save" button to save it.
There is only one work area, called the trackpad window, you can't open several documents in different windows. This single trackpad displays the current collection of templates in your storage box. You can load these templates from as many files as you wish in building up a collection of templates comprising your track plan. The files do not get "opened" in the process and remain entirely unchanged on your disk drive.
When you want to save your work, you can choose to save all the templates which are in the box to a file, or save only a selected group of them to a file. For example you might choose to save your track plan in three separate files called, say, "main lines", "goods yard" and "engine sheds". You could perhaps have several different versions of each of these, and load them subsequently in various trial combinations.
With this way you of working with files you can very easily mix and match templates from many different designs, and produce several different trial versions of your track plan.
The intention is always to create a new file when saving templates, and Templot will provide a suggested file name which includes the date and time in a format which causes files to be displayed in date order in the file dialog window.
You can of course choose to overwrite an existing file instead, but I would strongly recommend that you don't do this. Unlike text-based applications, technical design work such as this is all about trial-and-error. Two steps forward, one back. You may be quite sure that you won't need a previous file again, but I can assure you that you will!
Creating a new file every time means that you can always revert your drawing to how it was an hour ago, yesterday, last week, whenever. Or extract a valuable group of templates from an old file to incorporate into the new plan which you just dreamed up.
But you should save your work only when there is a good reason to do so. Templot's auto-restore feature (see below) takes care of the risk of losing your data as a result of system failures.
A new file every time means that your \BOX-FILES\ folder will of course get well-filled with files, but Templot's data files are comparatively small. When the planning is over and you have started building track is the time to delete the unwanted ones, not before.
Entirely independently of your loading and saving of templates, Templot keeps its own rolling backup copy of your storage box contents on disk. This means that Templot is effectively "crash-proof", there is no need to do repeated saves merely as a precaution against a system malfunction or power-failure.
When you start a new Templot session you are offered an automatic restore of the storage box contents as they were when you quit the previous session, and (even if you decline) you can revert to this state of affairs ( [ restore previous ] ) at any subsequent time during the current session, and as often as you wish. This works even if the previous session terminated abnormally, so you could if you wish go several sessions without doing any saves at all, and without any risk of losing your work.
The automatic restore feature is completely self-contained. Your own data files are never used or modified in any way, so this is not the same as a conventional auto-save function.
(A lawyer interrupts: Clearly Templot cannot be 100% crash-proof. If a system malfunction caused massive corruption of data on the disk drive, Templot's files would be lost along with all the others.)
In many drawing packages, movement of the mouse pointer on the screen corresponds exactly to the element being drawn. Although Templot has a draw with mouse function which works this way, this is not a track drawing function. It is part of the background shapes feature, intended for setting out baseboard outlines and such-like.
The track template generator works differently. You are not dragging the track itself when you use a mouse action, but using the movement of the mouse to change the dimension settings for radius, length, rotation, and so on. The actual position of the mouse pointer on the screen is immaterial.
You can if you wish imagine an invisible slider device under the mouse pointer when you are using the mouse actions. The reason that it is invisible is that for many of the mouse actions it is infinitely long. You can repeatedly do click-move-click back and forth across the screen to swing a template round a curve, for example, or to extend the length of a template while zoomed in on it. Another reason that it is invisible is that you don't need to hold onto it with the mouse button down as in a conventional drag. Click-move-click works just as well, and is far more comfortable when making precise adjustments.
Templot is still a development project, so your comments and feedback on the above, or anything else in Templot, are always very welcome via the Templot Club user forum.