June 21, 2021

Zavala iconZavala icon

Zavala - A Simple Outliner

Product: Get Organized with Zavala
Price: Free

Described by the developer as:

A good, simple outliner for macOS and iOS.

Zavala is a new entrant into the outliner space on both macOS and iOS.

You have the choice of keeping your documents on the Mac, or on iCloud to have them accessible on both macOS and iOS. The iOS version has an iPhone version and an iPad version.

Zavala is a library based application, similar to Drafts, or Ulysses. The organization of the outlines is through tags. There are no folders in this application.

For a library based application, one of the first questions is how good is the export function? Zavala lets you export to Markdown or OPML. It is built in to the application and it is easy to get individual files out of the program. Being an outliner, it treats every paragraph as an outline item, which means that in the Markdown export you get an unordered list. To avoid that, if you want another paragraph, in the same item, press ⌥↵.

Zavala reminds me of Outlinely. Outlinely1 is a mature product with a feature set geared towards writing. Zavala is starting out in that journey. It isn’t reasonable to compare these products at this stage. This is the first step by Zavala and it is something I am going to keep a close eye on.

Zavala Preferences

Zavala - File LocationZavala - File Location

The preferences are simple. You get to choose where you want the library to be located and get to select both local storage and iCloud.

You get to decide on fonts.

Zavala - FontsZavala - Fonts

The developer is responsive to comments and suggestions. If you are interested in this product, I suggest you follow, and contribute to the discussions in the GitHub product page.

I am excited by Zavala. I recommend it.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.


  1. Outlinely is characterized by an intermittent development schedule and some flakiness as to its availability. It went missing for a few months and has made a comeback to the App Store in recent months. I find it difficult to rely on this product. Pity because I am fond of Outlinely.↩︎

zavala outlines macOS
June 16, 2021

Hyperkey IconsHyperkey Icons

Hyperkey Enables Keyboard Commands

Product: Hyperkey
Price: $4.99

I used to use Karabiner-Elements, then switched to BetterTouchTool for no good reason.

I have been using the hyper key for a few years. It is ⇧⌃⌥⌘. If you are fond of keyboard commands and you use Alfred or Keyboard Maestro to assign keyboard commands to functions and scripts, you run out of keyboard commands available to you. The Caps Lock key, for me, sits on the keyboard adding little value. Changing it to a Hyper key lets me assign keyboard commands to it and I have a whole slew of available options. The other advantage? Programs don’t use the Hyper key to assign keyboard commands, thus there is less conflict.

When you get used to it, it is difficult to imagine working on a Mac where you do not have access to a Hyper key. You are going to be reliant on your Hyper key if you use it for a while.

Today, I came across a program called Hyperkey It does what it’s name suggests. Gives you access to a Hyper key.

Setting up Hyperkey

The preferences are self-explanatory.

Hyperkjey PreferencesHyperkjey Preferences

You can assign the Hyper key to your choice of key. You are not restricted to the Caps Lock key. You can choose from a drop-down menu.

Which key is the hyper key?Which key is the hyper key?

I chose the Caps Lock key.

You don’t lose the Caps Lock key. You can enable a quick press on the Caps Lock key to enable Caps lock. I am not interested in that. Or you can remap it to some other key on the keyboard, you don’t use much.

Where is the Caps Lock key?Where is the Caps Lock key?

You can get the program to launch on restart and hide the menubar icon.

Conclusion

I have been using Hyperkey for a couple of days and it is working. Does what it is supposed to do, and I get to enjoy having the Hyper key available.

Both Karabiner Elements and BetterTouchTool do a lot more than Hyperkey. But if your needs extend to only the hyper key functionality, it is a better option than the others.

Hyperkey is recommended heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

macOS keyboard commands
June 15, 2021

Obsidian and Kanban

Check this out:

A Kanban BoardA Kanban Board

A Kanban board in Obsidian. Reminds me of Trello. In a text editor. It is plain text and Markdown.

Kanban in MarkdownKanban in Markdown

You can drag and drop between categories. When you put a task in the Done category, you can check it off as done.

Did I mention, that this was all in a text editor? In plain text? Using Markdown?

How Is This Voodoo Possible?

This is possible through a community plug-in called mgmeyers/obsidian-kanban: Create markdown-backed Kanban boards in Obsidian.. Thank you Mr. Meyers.

That is it. I am showing you the basic implementation of it. You can add dates and build a task manager in it with as much detail as you like.

I found an interesting theme for Obsidian, Braweria/Spectrum: Spectrum is an Obsidian theme.. This has a dedicated section on designing your Kanban boards with CSS. I borrowed from that to include it in the Solarized theme I am using. The Spectrum theme is beautiful and I switch between Solarized and Spectrum depending on my mood. Thank you Ms. Wiktoria Mielcarek.

Takeaways

In a move, I cannot explain, I have moved all of my writing and note-taking to Obsidian. I wanted the challenge of learning something new and exploring a new program seemed to be the right way to go about that.

Obsidian is at the core a Markdown focused text editor. That is it. But with a published API for plug-ins, developers are adding amazing features to the core program. This Kanban plug-in is one example of that. I am blown away by this. I can’t wait to see what other things I discover.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

obsidian macOS kanban
June 9, 2021

IconIcon

VSCode as a Markdown Editor

Product: Visual Studio Code - Code Editing. Redefined
Price: Free

There is nothing right about this adventure. A Microsoft product? An Electron product?

I have lost my mind.

I blame Gabe Weatherhead. He talked about how he is enjoying VSCode and I got curious.

I am not doing any coding. That is not my focus. I am writing. Taking notes and doodling with words. That is what I use a text editor for.

How does VSCode fare?

Short Version: Surprisingly well.

Now for the much longer version.

Initial Roadblock

The best extension for Markdown is Markdown All in One. It makes Alfred, Keyboard Maestro, and aText - Text template, shortcut, expansion for Mac and Windows text expansions not work.

In Alfred, you can click the Features>Snippets>Auto Expansion button, go to the Tweaking pane and make the Simulated key event speed a notch lower than Fastest. That works. However, that makes Obsidian lose the ability to handle snippets from Alfred. That was a solution I did not care for. I like working in Obsidian.

The other solution I found was going to the Keyboard Shortcuts preference in VSCode and turning off the markdown.extension.onBackspaceKey. It has a key assigned to it. Delete it. I don’t know what that keyboard command was supposed to do, but it fixed the issue. The expansions work and the Alfred expansions work on the Fastest setting.

Experience of Working in VSCode

In VSCode, I am writing Markdown, text files, and the occasional JSON and CSS based theme files. The experience of using VSCode as a code editor might be significantly different from mine.

As a Markdown focused text editor it does a good job.

Easy Entry of Markdown Syntax

VSCode has a pull down menu which gives you the common Markdown syntax when you press ⌃+[Spacebar]. You choose the option you are looking for and the cursor is put in the middle of the syntax and you continue writing.

Markdown Shortcuts gives you a list of commands in the command palette which makes the entry of Markdown syntax easy.

ShortcutsShortcuts

Extensions I Found Useful

One of the strenghts of VSCode is the extensive extensions library available for the product. Developers across the world have made useful extensions and you can add them to the program. Choose the ones you think are the most useful to you and get writing.

These are the extensions which I have found useful:

  1. Markdown All in One
  2. Markdown Footnotes
  3. Markdown Shortcuts
  4. Markdown Todo
  5. Bracket Pair Colorizer 2
  6. Dictionary Completion
  7. Numbered Bookmarks - Visual Studio Marketplace
  8. Numbered Bookmarks
  9. Typewriter Scroll Mode
  10. Word Count

Writing in VSCode

VSCode is nimble for an Electron application. I found it to be quick and responsive for my needs. Using it on an old iMac (mid 2011 with 16 megs of memory), it has no performance issues. I can keep a bunch of files open. I can move between them and the program chugs along.

I have opened large files (>8 megs) in it. It isn’t as fast as BBEdit 13, or Sublime Text, but it is fast and stable enough for work with larger files.

One of the things I like about VSCode is the smooth scrolling cursor. You push the cursor along and it helps focus on words appearing on the screen. You turn it on through the settings of VSCode.

Smooth CursorSmooth Cursor

A setting which I find useful is the location of the sidebar. On the right. Keeps your editing window from moving around when you hide/display the sidebar (⌘K ⌥B).

Sidebar to the rightSidebar to the right

The abundance of extensions means that the program supports almost everything. Two extensions which I was glad to find were:

  1. CriticMarkup for Visual Studio Code
  2. Better Fountain

Customization and Settings

VSCode is customizable. You can spend a lot of time doing that, but once you are done, you can have an editor which you love writing in.

The settings are presented two ways. The tab pane preferences with a good search function:

GUI settingsGUI settings

and a JSON file representation:

JSON SettingsJSON Settings

Pick your favorite and customize the editor to behave like you want it to.

I added the iA Writer cursor color to VSCode:

    "workbench.colorCustomizations": {
        "editorCursor.background": "#1EBDFF",
        "editorCursor.foreground": "#1EBDFF",
    },

You can, through GitHub, sync your settings to be used in all your machines. It is built into the program and that makes it easy to have the same customized environment available in all your computers.

Oh, before I forget. There is a great Solarized theme available. Find it at Better Solarized.

Conclusions

VSCode performs surprisingly well for an Electron application. The Extensions Marketplace makes the editor shine. It is fast, stable, and a pleasure to write in.

The criticism is generic to Electron apps. Non macOS compliance. No support for Services. No support for the system spell checker and text entry shortcuts built into the macOS. No support for the ability to type two spaces to get a period, or the ability to capitalize the first letter of a new sentence. This is what I call “lazy type.” The absence of that is annoying.

Sublime Text is the closest competitor to VSCode. It is a commercial application. It is “more” macOS compliant. It uses the Services menu, and doesn’t let you “lazy type.” The Markdown plugin for Sublime Text, MarkdownEditing is better. The GitHub Markdown Snippets makes it easy to work in Markdown. I also have the advantage of being comfortable in Sublime Text, there is no good reason for me to switch to VSCode.

If I do switch to an Electron app, it will be Obsidian. It is focused on Markdown and has a feature set geared to note-taking.

If you are new to text editors. VSCode is a good choice. Distinguished by being free and supported by a vibrant extensions ecosystem, it is the dominant text editor in almost all platforms at this point.

If you can live with Electron, VSCode is a good solution for your Markdown based text editing needs.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

macOS vscode markdown
June 3, 2021

Hidden BarHidden Bar

Clean Your Menubar With Hidden Bar

Product: Hidden Bar
Github: dwarvesf/hidden: An ultra-light MacOS utility that helps hide menu bar icons
Price: Free

Hidden Bar is not needed on the iMac. But on a laptop, it is essential.

This is the menu bar on the MacBook Air.

Menu bar sans Hidden BarMenu bar sans Hidden Bar

As you can see, there are way too many icons. They are a distraction. They have little notifications which pop up, they change depending on what the program is doing in the background and I don’t care for any of it. I would like to see them when I need to.

Hidden Bar lets me do that.

Menu bar with Hidden BarMenu bar with Hidden Bar

Everything hidden except the ones I want to see. LittleSnitch activity, Wifi status and battery state. The rest of the stuff? Hidden.

This is the menu bar unhidden.

Menu bar unhiddenMenu bar unhidden

When I need to, I can expand the menu bar or contract it when I don’t need it. Makes for a better environment.

Hidden Bar has well designed preferences.

Hidden bar preferencesHidden bar preferences

Dozer Is Another Alternative

Mortennn/Dozer: Hide menu bar icons on macOS is another free and open source application which does the same thing.

Bartender is Another Choice

Bartender is a commercial application which does the same thing with a few more features. It costs $15 to buy.

My Choice

I chose Hidden Bar because this is not a feature which I want to spend $15 on. Your decision might be different. They are all good solutions for a clean menubar without distractions.

I recommend Hidden Bar enthusiastically.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

macOS