May 17, 2022

Bike IconBike Icon

Bike - a Bicycle for Your Outlines

Product: Hog Bay Software – Bike: Tool for thought
Price: $29.99

“Bike is a fast and fluid outliner—a simple tool that feels nice.” This is how Bike is described by it’s developer.

Does Bike live up to that description? The answer is “An emphatic yes.”

Bike is the best outliner I have used in a while.

Bike WindowBike Window

What makes Bike a great outliner?

  • Simple: Bike is simple. If you know how to work with outlining programs, you know how to work in Bike. Get familiar with the keyboard commands and you are ready to be an expert. This is well designed software which is a pleasure to use.
  • Performance: Bike is responsive, fast, and stable. It is comfortable with large files.
  • File agnostic: Bike deals with OPML files, text files and it’s own .bike files (these are HTML files). There is no lock-in. You can use Bike for a while and move on to something else for your outlining needs without any problems. Conversely, you can bring in files you have created with other programs into Bike and that is an easy process.
  • Focus and Hoisting: When I have a large outline, I want to be able to concentrate on sections. Bike lets me do that.
  • Keyboard Commands: Bike is superb at providing you keyboard commands to write and manage outlines in Bike. With a custom built editor, Bike is designed to keep you from the mouse/trackpad. You can do everything with keyboard commands and it makes the experience of editing in Bike fantastic. I love being in Bike and living in it. Find the list of Keyboard Shortcuts for Bike.
    • To give an example of how extensive the support for keyboard commands are in Bike.
      • Indent and Outdent are two things you do a lot when you are in an outline. You can indent and outdent in the following ways:
        • Tab and Shift-Tab to indent/outdent.
        • ⌃+⌘+Right and ⌃+⌘+Left to indent/outdent.
        • ⌘+[** and **⌘+] to indent/outdent.
    • I love this program.
  • Documentation: Bike is extensively documented at Bike - Bike. I love it when a new product takes the trouble of documenting it’s features. Makes the act of learning how to use it easier. You get value from your investment if you know how to use the product you paid for. Bike is excellent at that.
  • Different Modes: Bike has an editing mode which is what is supported by all text editors and outliners. In addition it has an “Outline Editing Mode.” While in text editing mode, press the ESC key and you switch to outline editing mode. Outline editing mode is useful when you are re-arranging the items in your outline. Try it. You might love it like I do.
  • Links: Bike has the ability to link the content of one document to another document. This is not restricted to Bike alone. The Bike link can be activated in other programs and as long as Bike is installed on the machine, it will work. Links can be directed to the path of the document, if that is what you prefer. Read about it Using Links - Bike.

Roadmap

At this stage Bike has an extensive roadmap. Themes and plug-ins are promised. This is a version 1.0 product. I would like some improvements to the basic product and they are listed next.

Improvements

  • I want to use my own themes and fonts.
  • Full screen sucks. I want the editing window in full screen to be smaller than the whole screen of the computer.
  • Typewriter Scrolling. I don’t want to look at the bottom of the screen when I am writing.

A Couple of Issues I Want to Address

Questions About the Future of Bike

A comment from the Outliner software forum: Outliner Software: New app, Bike

Ah! Jesse Grosjean does it again… The guy who created and killed Mori, Plaintext, Folding Text, Taskpaper for IOS, SimpleText, QuickCursor. I have lost count of how many apps he created and dumped (along with his customers). I won’t be fooled this time.

There is consensus amongst the participants of this forum. I know all those products. I paid for all of them, except Mori. I also know that Jesse Grosjean is a developer who keeps pushing the boundaries of what is possible in plain text files. TaskPaper is a fantastic product which has given me continuous service for almost a decade. Folding Text, an experiment, is working on the latest OS. I respect Jesse as a developer. And Bike is bringing me joy.

Yes there is a promised roadmap and no one knows whether it can be delivered. Bike, as is, at version 1.0, I am going to use extensively.

Bike Is Not TaskPaper 4

Jesse explains that in How does Bike relate to TaskPaper?

Recommendation

Adopting Bike into my workflow is a no-brainer for me.

I recommend it heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: The developer provided a license code for beta-testers of which I was one.

outliner macOS
May 5, 2022

SilhouetteSilhouette

Links of Note 2022-05-05

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: Thanks to Photo by Juan Nino from Pexels

links
May 1, 2022

Typora IconTypora Icon

Typora is Fantastic

Product: Typora — a markdown editor, markdown reader.
Price: $14.99

Typora is Markdown focused text editor. It has emerged from a long beta period. I have been waiting to write about it for a while.

Typora does Electron Right

Typora is an Electron app. The criticism against Electron apps on macOS is that they don’t support standard macOS features like:

  1. Services.
  2. “Lazy” typing. Two spaces don’t turn into a period. The first letter of a sentence is not capitalized even though the system defaults specify this.
  3. Version control and revert to previous version.

Typora supports Services, version control, and “lazy” typing. I was not expecting this, Typora surprised me.

Supporting macOS features makes Typora a better experience for me. It is a cross-platform application, but it is a well-behaved macOS application and that is fantastic.

Typora screenTypora screen

Typora is a full-featured, Markdown focused text editor. It is well documented.

These are some of the Typora features I am fond of:

  1. Shows the image when you add an image to the document.
  2. Lists auto-continue. Both unordered and ordered lists auto-continue.
  3. Typora has a good table editor.
  4. Support for inline math, subscript, superscript, highlight and diagrams through sequence, flowchart and mermaid.
  5. Typora has typewriter/focus mode.
  6. The Outline view in the sidebar is useful. Lets you navigate through your document.
  7. You can add Auto-Numbering for Headings through CSS. Auto Numbering for Headings - Typora Support.
  8. Typora lets you add your own CSS to the themes. Add Custom CSS - Typora Support.
  9. Typora is integrated with the macOS system service of Version Control and Recovery. Version Control and Recovery - Typora Support.
  10. You can maintain task lists in Typora. Task List — Easy Way to Record Todos - Typora Support.
  11. The support for keyboard commands is extensive in Typora. Shortcut Keys - Typora Support.

Typora with No Syntax HidingTypora with No Syntax Hiding

Typora’s Main Feature Doesn’t Impress Me

Typora’s contribution to the world of Markdown based text editors is a feature that I despise. It hides the Markdown syntax and gives you a kind of WYSIWYG look at your file. Since the release of Typora in beta, users have been hounding competing developers to add this feature to their products. Bear is adding it to their next iteration of the editor. Obsidian has added the feature.

I hate it. Markdown is by definition a minimal markup. Why do we have to hide it? I don’t see the upside. A vocal group of users seem to like this feature and that is one of the defining features of Typora. It is wasted on me.

The theme Monospace gives me the ability to not deal with this abomination and see my Markdown syntax. I am in that theme all the time.

Suggested Improvements

These are some of the improvements which would make Typora better:

  • The search feature needs work. It is anemic at this point.
  • Folding of sections would be a definite improvement. Makes it easier to deal with larger documents.

Conclusion

Typora doesn’t behave like a typical Electron application. It is a good macOS citizen supporting Services, Version Control, and System Keyboard settings. It deals with Markdown well and has the ability to add features like inline maths, sequences, and diagrams.

This is a well-designed editor. If you are looking for a Markdown based text editor, you cannot go wrong with Typora.

Typora is recommended heartily.

Note: Another review of Typora: Best Markdown editor for distraction-free writing.

Typora macOS Markdown
April 28, 2022

MonsterWriter for Academic Work

Product: MonsterWriter
Price: $34.99
App Store Link: MonsterWriter

MonsterWriter IconMonsterWriter Icon

MonsterWriter is an Electron-based writing program geared towards academic writing. You can use it for other kinds of writing, but it is focused on the academic segment with its feature set.

Interestingly, MonsterWriter is also trying to be a publishing platform. It lets you export your writing to Ghost.

You Have No Preferences

The first thing that struck me about MonsterWriter is the complete absence of any ability to customize the program. You can’t change the font. I will make it easier. You cannot change anything. No preferences at all.

This is a dual-edged sword. There is nothing to choose, Thus there are no distractions. The only thing you can do in MonsterWriter is write and then export to whatever format you want (HTML, Markdown, PDF, and LaTeX). I understand the advantage of this method, but I like monospace fonts, and love being able to choose the font I write in. I am going to stare at the screen the whole day. Having to stare at a font that is not my preferred one bugs me.

The program ships with two modes: A light mode and a dark mode. They are not bad. But I like solarized light and dark better.

The light mode:
MonsterWriter Light Mode

The dark mode:
MonsterWriter Dark Mode

A writing program occupies my screen the whole day. Having to stare at something I am not particularly fond of, does not help.

Stuff MonsterWriter Does Do

  • It is a minimal writing experience. You don’t have any choices to make. You only have to write.
  • Handles bold, italic and underline. Has the ability to format code differently from text. Has a nice way of defining the markup of the section you are working on through a dropdown menu on the right of the paragraph.

MonsterWriter MarkupMonsterWriter Markup

  • Exports to PDF, LaTeX, HTML, or Markdown.
  • Geared towards academic writing, MonsterWriter handles equations, footnotes, bibliography, table of contents, captions, and more.
  • You can use it to publish to Ghost.
  • Automates some of the formatting of the document. Start a paragraph with ‘#table’ to start a table and so on. It is convenient and easy to get used to.

MonsterWriter TableMonsterWriter Table

  • It auto-completes lists, both unordered and ordered. That is a useful feature for me.
  • Handles mermaid diagrams.
  • Auto-saves and user selectable backups.
  • Handles large files smoothly.
  • Auto-numbering of sections. Fixes the sequence when you move things around or insert new sections into the document.
  • MonsterWriter provides context sensitive help.
  • Has a full screen mode but no keyboard command to reach it. You have to click on the green icon on the window to invoke full-screen mode.
  • The latest version has built-in integration with Zotero Online. Zotero Desktop is coming soon, according to the developer.

Stuff MonsterWriter Doesn’t Do

  • Typewriter scrolling.
  • Preferences of any kind
    • No ability to change the font.
    • No theming, except a light and a dark mode.
  • Retain window setup. Using MonsterWriter, you set up the size of the window for the document you are working on. After some writing, you quit the program. On relaunch, you have to set up the size again. Irritating.
  • MonsterWriter has no ability to import documents from other programs. You cannot bring in existing Markdown files or simple text files into the program. If you copy the text from another program, and then paste into a MonsterWriter document, the program stalls on large size copy and paste operations. You can do this for small documents but the program chokes on large documents.
  • MonsterWriter stores its files in the user’s Application Support folder. I would prefer the ability to store the folder in Dropbox or iCloud. That would allow me to work on the same files, using MonsterWriter, through multiple computers.

Who Is the Audience for MonsterWriter?

The technically proficient academic writer is prone to using tools like Pandoc to convert text files into a whole host of desired formats. They are also using text editors like Emacs (org-mode), VSCode, BBEdit, or Sublime Text. They might be using dedicated writing programs like Scrivener, and, heaven help us, some of them might be using Microsoft Word.

Technical proficiency would mean that the user is comfortable in defining their writing environment for themselves. That would mean themes and fonts being user-selectable. The absence of that ability would drive some of them batty.

My hypothesis is that the target audience for MonsterWriter is the non-technical academic writer. That is the writer who is looking for a solution which is self-contained and easy. They are looking for a program which lets them think about their writing and not on how to make the writing program work for them. MonsterWriter is the perfect program for that audience.

Conclusion

For academics, this is a good solution for your writing. For general writing and blogging, I prefer a Markdown focused solution. However, if you use this for your academic writing, you can extend the use to writing in Markdown and other kinds of writing. It is fairly versatile and a capable solution for all of your writing needs.

MonsterWriter is recommended.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: The developer offered me a review license if I wanted to write about the application. I gratefully accepted.

macOS writing
March 15, 2022

QB 006: Revisiting the Planck EZ

A reader asked for a follow up on the experience of using the Planck EZ and I thought it was worth a revisit. After using the Planck for more than six months, these are my thoughts on it.

My hands don’t hurt. There is no pain or discomfort in the wrists or the fingers. I have been typing exclusively on the Planck, both on the iMac and on the Air. I have been doing a lot of typing and there is no pain. That alone makes this a good investment, for me.

I don’t know what the contributing factor is. Is it the keyboard? Is it the placement of the trackpad? These are the possible factors:

  1. Ortholinear arrangement of the keys, means less travel for the fingers.
  2. The Planck is a small keyboard with 47 keys. Which means that it takes less space and the trackpad is right next to it. Less movement for my hands and fingers.

I don’t know what is contributing to the lack of pain. I am assuming it is the Planck but I don’t know the exact contributing factor. This is anecdotal evidence at best.

Downsides

The Planck destroys your ability to type on a staggered layout. The ortholinear arrangement leads to habits which make it virtually impossible to type on a staggered layout. I am sure that if I made up my mind to switch, I could. Will take me a few weeks to get used to it, it is not impossible to go back. However, the idea of using both is a bad one.

Auto-Shift, the ability to hold down a letter for the capitalized version is another bad habit which grows on you and makes it difficult to switch. Forgetting the Shift key to type capitalized letters is something that I took to easily. When I type on something other than the Planck, I find myself holding down keys waiting for the capitalized letter to appear. It is a deeply frustrating experience.

Conclusion

The Planck is fantastic. It is habit-forming and ruins you for other keyboards. The absence of pain and discomfort in my wrists and fingers is noticeable. The customization and Auto-Shift makes it a personalized experience and I am glad I made the switch.

I am happy with the Planck. I am saving for the Moonlander Mark I.

Note: You can find my configuration for the Planck, here.

Planck keyboard