May 14, 2018

Highland 2 Merges Fountain with Markdown

Highland 2 IconHighland 2 Icon

Product: Highland 2 | Quote-Unquote Apps
Mac App Store: Highland 2
Price: $29.99 for a limited time; $49.99 after.

Highland 1.0 was a text editor built around Fountain | A markup language for screenwriting..

Highland 2 adds Markdown to its considerable Fountain skills to make it an unique addition to your text editing tools.

Highland 2 is a complete writing environment for both Markdown and Fountain based writing.

Features

I will write about the features which are interesting to me. I don’t write screenplays. That is not my focus for this app. I am sure there are people more qualified than me to talk about Highland 2 and its implementation of Fountain. I will deal with the Markdown implementation of Highland 2 and that will be my focus.

Markup

The support of Markdown is extensive but it doesn’t support all the features of the advanced variants of the Markdown syntax. Explicit support for one of the established variants would be welcome.

From what I can tell, it has full support for Fountain.

The Sidebar

Highland 2 has a sidebar which is home to five components:

  1. The Navigator
  2. The Bin
  3. Goals and Stats
  4. Assets
  5. Scratchpad

The Navigator

The NavigatorThe Navigator

The Navigator contains the structure of your document. The headers of the sections in your document let you go from one section to another. The Navigator also contains the notes that you have throughout the document. Shows up in the Navigator as a reminder. It is not an interactive feature in that it doesn’t let you change the order of the sections through drag and drop. It lets you go to the section and I can see that it would be a great feature for long documents. It could be improved by the inclusion of the following capabilities:

  1. I should be able to fold sections, letting me focus on sections of the document.
  2. Should be interactive to the extent that I can drag and drop the various sections to where I want them to be. MultiMarkdown Composer v4 does a great job of this.

These two changes would make the Navigator perfect.

The Bin

The BinThe Bin

The Bin is a repository of blocks of text. You can park blocks of text here which you are going to use later in the document. You drag and drop text into it. It is an interesting addition to a single document based text editor. Lets me write stuff and then put it in the bin. I know that it doesn’t fit the flow at this point but I can use it later. Thanks to the Bin, sections I write don’t have to be rewritten because I deleted them earlier.

Goals and Stats

Goals and StatsGoals and Stats

You can set a Word Goal for a document. The word counts and reading time associated with your document. This reminds me of Ulysses and its attempt to create a visual indicator of how you are doing with your productivity. It is an interesting feature and helps those of us who write to a schedule.

Assets

This is a feature which is a part of the .highland document format that Highland 2 introduces. You can drag media elements like images into the document and the whole collection is a part of the .highland document. The text document and the collection of media elements all get included in what is effectively a zipped archive file. The Assets panel shows all the items you have imported into the document.

Scratch Pad

ScratchPadScratchPad

This is a feature I miss when I write in the Markdown based text editors. Scrivener has a great implementation of this. I am glad to see Highland 2 bring it to the Markdown based text editors.

The Scratch Pad is for your random thoughts while you are writing your document. You can put notes in your document using the Highland 2 syntax of circling the section in two box brackets. If what you are writing is long and distracting to the flow of your document you are better off writing it in the Scratchpad. I use it to consider alternate directions and alternate constructions of the argument I am making. Just helps me think through the argument. I love having it implemented in a single document based writing application.

Templates

TemplatesTemplates

A feature useful to those producing content other than for the Web, Highland 2 includes 10 PDF templates to lay out your document and export it. There are some specific to the act of screenwriting and there are some for writing in Markdown.

Live Margins

This is a screenwriting feature which lets you see the shape of your script. It is completely lost on me.

Preferences

PreferencesPreferences

Highland 2 ships with its own font called Highland Sans. It lets you use whatever font you want in your writing. The preferences are minimal and does a good job of providing you with a set of choices which lets you customize the writing environment to your liking.

Editing Environment

Editing EnvironmentEditing Environment

A writing application is as good as the writing environment it provides. Highland 2 does a good job of providing you a nice space to write in. There is a minimal ethos, typewriter scrolling is supported, the application has a good collection of keyboard commands and a good full screen implementation.

Highland 2 is not bare bones when it comes to features. It provides a whole slew of new to the category features, like the Bin and the ScratchPad. It still manages to give you an environment where you can turn off everything distracting and just write. I am used to having nothing on the screen except my writing. Ulysses, iA Writer, and Composer are all products which do a great job of providing you a window where you can just write. Highland 2 provides a similar experience. The only thing on screen are my words and nothing else.

There are certain things I would like to be added:

  1. Adding Markdown links is not as convenient as it can be. I should be able to highlight a word or phrase, press a keyboard command and turn it into a Markdown link. Surrounding the word or phrase with box brackets and pasting the URL contained in the clipboard next to it after surrounding it with regular brackets. The implementation of links at this point is too basic.
  2. Support for footnotes should be implemented.
  3. I don’t understand the support of Markdown. Highland 2 seems to support some of the advanced features of Markdown but not all of them. It needs to support a variant: either CommonMark or MultiMarkdown. But support it fully. Not parts of it.

Themes

ThemesThemes

I like the fact that Highland 2 ships with themes but I would like the ability to add my own themes.

One of the things I find interesting about Highland 2 is that themes are document specific. Usually themes are implemented as a global default. You set the theme and it is valid for all documents from that point on. Not so in Highland 2, individual tabs can have specific themes applied to them. There is no global setting.

Sprints

SprintsSprints

Highland 2 lets you set and track focused writing sessions. Enter your desired sprint time and go. Highland 2 keeps track of the sprint date, duration, and words added or deleted (for editing sessions). This is record keeping which is again not shared by its competitors. I like it. Forces me to concentrate and be productive. The very act of measuring my progress makes me less eager to welcome distracted.

Links and Notes are available when you write in Markdown. Images and included text files are available to you if you adopt the .highland file format.

The ability to convert links between inline links and reference links is much appreciated. The notes are very well implemented and a great addition to the workflow. Surround your note with a couple of square brackets and the notes show up in the Navigator. An useful implementation of the feature. I find myself using more notes than I thought I would.

Highland File Format

The .highland document is a customized TextBundle file. It is a compressed .textbundle file. I was very excited when TextBundle was introduced by the “mad genius” Brett Terpstra and the Ulysses folks. The adoption of the format however has been pretty slow. The three programs, I know of, which have adopted the document format are Bear, Ulysses, and Marked 2.

Now we have the Quote-Unquote Apps introduce a variant of the TextBundle format. This introduces a lock-in with the Highland 2 application, if you adopt the .highland format for your documents. I am not excited by that. It is easy to export out of the .highland format and it is also very easy to rename the extension to .zip and extract your writing from it. I am happy with the simple Markdown files which are accessible to any text editor.

However the TextBundle format and the .highland variant are both useful additions to the arsenal of a person who lives in text files. This is not something that I am going to use regularly but it is something that I can see use cases for. The ability to transfer text files along with the media that it includes in one compact file is going to be useful for a lot of users and I am looking forward to the evolution of the format.

Pricing

Highland 2 is priced at $49.99. For a limited time, it is available for $29.99. The price is implemented through an in-app purchase. It is free to download and use.

In-App PurchaseIn-App Purchase

Paying for HighlandPro gives you access to a bunch of templates, 10 editor themes and the ability to export watermark-free PDF.

Conclusion

I am coming to the conclusion that products are designed in congruence with the milieu that developers hail from. For instance, developers who are swimming in code find it difficult to see the benefits of typewriter scrolling. That is why a venerated text editor like BBEdit has not implemented typewriter scrolling in its 25 years of existence. Its developer doesn’t see it. Doesn’t see the need for it. Doesn’t need it for code and that is the milieu he seems to live in. Thus users of BBEdit are deprived of typewriter scrolling and spend their writing lives looking at the bottom of their screens.

The world of minimalistic design where the iA.net folks live in makes it possible for them to design a text editor like iA Writer. No font choice. Only a light and dark theme and a blue cursor you chase around the screen. The product design is defined by the world the developers inhabit.

Highland 2 is designed by scriptwriters. People who live in the world of writing software and it shows. It is filled with features which make the act of writing efficient. The Navigator, the Bin, the Scratchpad, the Sprint are all features which would be the brainchild of people immersed in writing. You look at these and wonder why someone hadn’t thought of this particular combination of features before. You realize that the product design is a product of immersion into the milieu of writing and specifically creative writing.

I must point out that Highland 2 automatically renumbers an ordered list if you decide to change your mind and add an item in the middle. This is so rare that the first time I noticed it did that I had to recheck that it actually did it. Features like this just make me smile when I am using this product.

As you can tell, I am excited by Highland 2. I have been on the beta team for a while, and have been dying to talk about the product. I love it for certain kinds of writing, specially long documents. This is how I would improve this product:

  1. Support for all of a Markdown standard.
  2. Improve link creation.
  3. Footnotes.
  4. Ability for the Navigator to be dynamic. Give me the ability to drag and drop sections to rearrange the contents of my documents.
  5. Export to html and docx.
  6. Support for CriticMarkup.

Highland 2 is recommended heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Other Reviews I Have Come Across

Highland 2 review: So much more than just a scriptwriter | iMore

Another new markdown contender: Highland 2 | Welcome to Sherwood

MarkDown Fountain text editor macOS
May 3, 2018

Links of Note 2018-05-03

Writing a journal – Thord D. Hedengren

Why Journal?

You can keep a journal for many reasons, but only one actually matters. You’re keeping a journal for you.

I keep a journal. It lets me look at myself. Lets me think about my reaction to different stimuli. The goal is introspection. It lets me take some time away from the regular bustle of life and spend that time on understanding myself. It is the best thing I have done in the last ten years. I wish I had started earlier. Thord writes his thoughts on the activity of journaling. It is very well written.

Typography for Everyone Makes Texts Much Easier to Read | NOUPE

Make things easier to read. Simple tips with great impact.

Markdown Editors and Note-Takers | Welcome to Sherwood

I am looking forward to the whole series. Stephen Zeoli is presenting his take on a whole host of software I have also covered in this blog. It is interesting to read a different take on the same products.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Journal Typography Markdown
May 1, 2018

Bear iconBear icon

Bear 1.5 Is a Mixed-Bag of an Update

Bear - Notes for iPhone, iPad and Mac is updated to version 1.5.

The update brought us the following:

TagCons

Bear TagConsBear TagCons

Now you can waste time twiddling with icons for the sidebar. I like it, but I have to be honest. It is a waste of time. Doesn't help me write. Doesn't help me find individual notes. But makes everything prettier. So have at it.

Archive

Bear ArchiveBear Archive

Another feature which doesn't do anything for me. My tagging system ensures that I find my documents through tags. I don't ever look at the composite Notes item on the sidebar except to locate the pinned items at the top. That is not how I navigate through my notes. I don't have the need to archive my work. When an article, post, note, or scribbling is finished it gets assigned a tag which shows its completion and I move on to the next task. Maybe I am missing something here but it is not something that I have ever considered in Bear.

The purpose of the Archiving feature seems to be to move the note away from the main Notes folder. Okay. Color me underwhelmed.

Find Notes Through Some Specific Tags

I have answered the following question several times on Twitter: "How do I find a list of my untagged notes?" The answer is pretty simple. Search for @untagged. Now it shows up as its own tagged search under the composite Notes section. This search was documented by the Bear folks in the FAQ section of their site: Advanced search options in Bear - Bear - Faq and support. They still had to put it explicitly in their application.

Advice to the Bear developers: It is okay to tell the user to read the documentation. That is why it exists. The more you dumb down your product to cater to the truly lazy, the more you piss of users who are vested enough in your product to bother reading the documentation. In other words, I don't need this tagged search how do I disable it?

The other special tags are a @todo tag and a @today tag. The @todo tag collects all the tasks you have set across your collection of notes with the checkbox or Todo feature. The @today tag collects the documents you have worked on today.

These can be useful.

Export All Notes in a Tag

Nice feature. I can see use cases for this. This is a nice addition to the application.

Export to ePub

I love this feature. I can export the contents of a tag to ePub and read it on the go with my favorite ePub reader.

Syntax Highlighting

Bear now supports code syntax highlighting for nearly 30 languages, thanks to the addition of AppleScript, YAML, and Clojure.

Note Windows Can Now Float on Their Own

This is a much requested feature. Now you can have two documents open at the same time. One of the windows can float on top of the other. Or you can set them up side-by-side, write in one and use the other as reference.

New Themes

Dieci has officially made it to the Mac version. Ayu by Ike Ku has also been added.

Conclusion

I like Bear. It is well designed software. When it first came out, I was excited by it and wrote about it here, Bear Is My App of the Year - Bicycle For Your Mind.

This is the list of suggestions I made when I wrote about Bear one and a half years ago:

  1. I should be able to move lines around by using the standard macOS keyboard commands ⌃+⌘+↑ and ⌃+⌘+↓. (Done)
  2. Typewriter mode. Focus mode with a choice of focusing on paragraph or sentence.
  3. Ability to choose documents I want to sync and those I don't. Selective syncing will make it possible for me to have very large documents on the Mac and not worry about syncing those with the iOS devices.
  4. Let me use my own fonts. I wrote about a way to hack Bear to use your own fonts: Making Bear Work With OperatorMono - Bicycle For Your Mind.
  5. Let me design my own themes.
  6. Support table creation.
  7. I want to be able to use other writing software for specific tasks. I want to open the document I am working on in Bear in Typora. Create a few tables using the fantastic table editor in Typora and bring back the document to Bear. I want to open the same document in iA Writer and do a grammar check and final edit and bring it back to Bear. I can do that now, but it takes a few too many steps. I want it built-into Bear.

One and a half years and only one of my feature requests has made it to the final product. Some of these suggestions might have been too specific to my needs but some of them are not. No typewriter scrolling? No Tables? No ability to use my own fonts? Come on.

The developers of Bear are working on a major update to the editing environment. Hopefully we shall see some of my requested changes. In the meantime, the progression of Bear has been decidedly underwhelming.

Advice to Bear Developers

You are in a weird place. You have users who fall into two groups:

  1. Users who are paying you a monthly or yearly subscription fee.
  2. Users who are telling you that they are going to subscribe if you add this or that feature to the application. I have seen some of this on Twitter and it makes me laugh.

You have to decide on who you want to be. Are you a macOS/iOS developer or are you a cross-platform developer? I don't think you have the resources to be a cross-platform developer. I don't think you have the deep pockets to take on Evernote. A web app? Why? To let the macOS/iOS user access data on any platform they want?

You might have users who want you to be an Evernote replacement or have users who use the iPhone but use a Windows machine or have users who are macOS users but use an Android phone. You have to define who you are. And you have to decide whether these segments are subscribing to your application and generating revenue for you.

The definition which fits is the following: You are a macOS/iOS developer of a note-taking application. It is an application which takes notes. It is not an Evernote replacement. It is not a One Note replacement. It is not designed to be any of those things. It is designed to be Bear, the best Markdown based note-taking app, in the macOS/iOS platforms.

You need to develop for users who are subscribers. Learn to ignore non-subscribers. They are generating noise and not paying you a dime. Your subscribers are using your product daily and it is a part of their workflow. The best thing you can do for them is to improve their editing experience. You are working on the editor? It has been one and a half years you have been doing that, why do I not see any difference in the editing experience? It is because you are distracted. You are building a web app. For who? The bozos who haven't paid you a dime?

Like I said, the progression of Bear has been decidedly underwhelming.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Bear macOS Markdown
April 29, 2018

Liquid | Flow Adds Flow to Your Workflow

Liquid | Flow iconLiquid | Flow icon

Product: Liquid | Flow
App Store Link: Liquid | Flow
In-App Purchase: $4.99

Liquid | Flow is an utility which "makes your text interactive." Okay, that doesn't tell you anything. Let's try to explain this with an example: I am writing about a book by James Michener. And I want to do some research on the author. I highlight the name of the author and invoke Liquid | Flow, by the keyboard command ⌘⇧2.

Liquid | Flow WindowLiquid | Flow Window

The highlighted phrase is passed on to the Liquid | Flow window and now I can do what I want with it.

I want to conduct a Wikipedia search on James Michener, so I press R and a drop-down window from the Reference icon shows me my choices. I press W and my default browser launches with the Wikipedia page on James Michener.

Liquid | Flow ReferenceLiquid | Flow Reference

Saves me the trouble of the usual steps:

  1. Copy the name of the author.
  2. Launch the default browser.
  3. Go to the Wikipedia page.
  4. Paste the name into the Search field on Wikipedia page. Hit Enter.

The new process:

  1. Highlight the authors name.
  2. Hit ⌘⇧2. Press S and then W.

You can click on the Liquid | Flow window with your mouse. Pressing keys on the keyboard is easier.

Liquid | Flow Features

Liquid | Flow lets you conduct searches through the usual search engines:

  • Google
  • Google Images
  • Reverse Image Search
  • Google Maps
  • Google Scholar
  • Amazon
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Spotlight
  • Contacts
  • Email

An in-app upgrade lets you add your own searches.

It lets search the usual reference sites:

  • Wikipedia
  • IMDB
  • Etymonline
  • Google Definition
  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Wolfram Alpha
  • Wordnik

The in-app upgrade lets you add your own reference sites to search.

Liquid | Flow allmusic.comLiquid | Flow allmusic.com

This is search of the AllMusic | Record Reviews, Streaming Songs, Genres & Bands web site.

Liquid | Flow does conversions.

You can convert:

  • Currency
  • Temperature
  • Area
  • Speed
  • Distance
  • Volume
  • Weight
  • Data
  • Power

Liquid | Flow lets you do translations through the same in-app purchase. It uses Google Translate to translate between different languages and there is a wide selection of languages available.

Conclusion

Liquid | Flow is a great addition to the arsenal of utilities on macOS. You can do most of what Liquid | Flow does through Alfred and its powerpack purchase. But if you don't own Alfred, Liquid | Flow is the most elegant solution I have seen for searches across a whole host of sources.

Liquid | Flow has in-built connection to Author. I am going to cover that product one of these days.

Liquid | Flow is strongly recommended as an useful addition to your workflow.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Utilities macOS Search
April 24, 2018

Meta, Squeed, and Covered Tags and Embeds Artwork for My Digital Music

Product: Meta – Music Tag Editor, Audio Metadata on the Mac App Store
Web: Meta, Music Tag editor for Mac — Batch edit audio metadata, Rename files, Embed artwork and more…
Price: $14.99

Product: Squeed
Web: Squeed Web
Price: $4.99

Product: Covered
Price: Free

Meta Is a Tagging Workhorse

Meta IconMeta Icon

I have a ton of bootleg albums I have collected over the years. The problem with bootlegs is that they are not tagged as well as I would like them. Yes, I have a slight OCD problem when it comes to my digital music.

Meta WindowMeta Window

I needed the ability to write ID3 tags for mp3 and m4a files. Meta solves that problem for me. It is easy to use, and does a great job of helping me keep my music organized and properly tagged.

Meta supports all popular audio formats such as: mp3, mp4, m4a, aiff, wav, flac, ogg, oga, opus, spx, and writes metadata formats ID3 (v1, v2.3, v2.4), MP4, Vorbis, INFO and APE Tags.

Meta Filename to TagsMeta Filename to Tags

It has the ability to extract tags from the filenames. Automating some of these tasks makes the process of maintaining proper tags for my music efficient.

It lets you work in individual files and in batches. When you have a lot of tagging to accomplish, working in batches is an absolute treat.

I am delighted with Meta and use it extensively for my tagging needs. The only thing it lacks is the link to a database on the web which lets you use the time signature of the files to automate tagging of your music.

Squeed IconSqueed Icon

Squeed is the answer to that missing feature. It is linked to the Discogs database which lets you grab the tags from the database and fill it in. Since my tagging needs are primarily linked to bootlegs, and there is very little support for tags of bootlegs online, I am more inclined to use Meta rather than Squeed. But Squeed does a good job of dealing with the tagging of music which is commercially released.

Cover Art is Covered

Covered iconCovered icon

Covered is a free app on the Mac App Store which lets me bring in artwork from the iTunes music store and it lets me add album artwork for files missing it.

Covered windowCovered window

Using the iTunes Music Store gives you the ability to get optimized album artwork. I love it.

Conclusion

The duo of Meta and Squeed have my ID tagging needs covered. Covered makes sure that the music shows the album art. If you are inclined to make sure that your library is correctly tagged and organized, these three programs help the process immensely. I recommend them heartily.

I bought Squeed. A promo code for Meta was provided by the developer for a review and Covered is free.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Music