May 5, 2022
Links of Note 2022-05-05
macosxguru at the gmail thingie.
Note: Thanks to Photo by Juan Nino from Pexels
May 1, 2022
Typora is Fantastic
Product: Typora — a markdown editor, markdown reader.
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:
- “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.
- 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 is Full-featured
Typora is a full-featured, Markdown focused text editor. It is well documented.
These are some of the Typora features I am fond of:
- Shows the image when you add an image to the document.
- Lists auto-continue. Both unordered and ordered lists auto-continue.
- Typora has a good table editor.
- Support for inline math, subscript, superscript, highlight and diagrams through sequence, flowchart and mermaid.
- Typora has typewriter/focus mode.
- The Outline view in the sidebar is useful. Lets you navigate through your document.
- You can add Auto-Numbering for Headings through CSS. Auto Numbering for Headings - Typora Support.
- Typora lets you add your own CSS to the themes. Add Custom CSS - Typora Support.
- Typora is integrated with the macOS system service of Version Control and Recovery. Version Control and Recovery - Typora Support.
- You can maintain task lists in Typora. Task List — Easy Way to Record Todos - Typora Support.
- The support for keyboard commands is extensive in Typora. Shortcut Keys - Typora Support.
Typora 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.
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.
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.
April 28, 2022
MonsterWriter for Academic Work
App Store Link: MonsterWriter
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:
The 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- Ortholinear arrangement of the keys, means less travel for the fingers.
- 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.
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.
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.
March 8, 2022
QB 005: Plain Text Format
Derek Sivers preaches the benefits of living in text files. His arguments in favor of text files include:
- Free as in price.
- Free as in independent.
- Malleable as in easy to convert.
I live in text files. Everything I write is in plain text. Markdown formatted plain text. But plain text.
Plain text, for me, has the added advantages of:
- Easy and quick search.
- Less distractions. Not being distracted by formatting options, styles and rulers makes the act of writing easier for me.
- Versatility of plain text.
Listing out the advantages leads to a long list. I am going to elaborate on this one of these days.
Proven – Rhoneisms echoes the benefits of text files through the conception of text files as a proven format.
The Detractor - CJ Chilvers
Is plain text best? — CJ Chilvers
Chilvers makes the following argument:
When I switched to the Mac in 2008, all of my text file notes got corrupted in the move. I didn’t notice for a while because work occupied most of my time, and (non-developer) corporate work never happens in text files. By the time I went back to my notes, all of the titles and meta data had been replaced with gibberish. Luckily, the internal copy wasn’t corrupted, and I didn’t care enough at the time to dip into my backups, so it wasn’t a huge deal.
Chilvers doesn’t provide an analysis of the reasons behind this event. It is a sample size of one. It is an example without much context, so I cannot explore the antecedents to the event. I find it interesting that the title and the meta-data was corrupted but the internal content wasn’t. My inclination is to blame the event on user error, but I am going to hold back on that assertion. What was the OS he was switching from? What was the form of the meta-data? What happened to his non-text files?
This is the problem with anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t prove anything.
The meta data of a note/file is critical to me now. It gives valuable context the internal text usually doesn’t.
If your meta data of a note/file is maintained by the file-system, you are tied to that particular file-system. That is what seems to have happened to your files. If you had the meta-data included in the internal text of your file, you wouldn’t have this problem. Front matter for your notes/files is the solution to this problem.
Based on this one event, Chilvers gets prescriptive.
I wouldn’t worry too much about your archive, though. Nothing digital is of archival quality. There hasn’t been enough time to test any format or storage method. When it all shakes out in 400 years or so, I doubt anything we use now will be the preferred format. I’m not even sure humans will be a preferred biological format.
This is in the realm of pablum. I am not looking for a preferred format. I am interested in an accessible format. Accessible in the future without too much trouble. Words on a page or words on a screen. That is my goal. Plaintext is the better solution to that problem.
If chimpanzee’s are the preferred biological format 400 years from now, then you might be right, it doesn’t matter at all.
Also, none of this really matters. Legacy is a sales tool. No one is likely to dig through your thoughts in any file format.
It’s important to think of your captured thoughts as fleeting bits of information across all formats and uses. Maybe you’ll get back to them. Maybe you’ll use them. But investing everything in one, stable format doesn’t take away their fleeting nature. Thoughts will exist here and there for a while, then be gone and forgotten. Just like you.
This is the assertion that everything is fleeting. Why bother?
I find that very humbling, but comforting as well.
Oh, fuck off.
Okay, that was not nice.
We are all here for a minuscule amount of time and we are all insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I get that. Still doesn’t solve my problem. I want to work in a format which will outlast me. In case anyone gives a shit. They might not, but I want to make it as easy as possible for them, if they do. Plain text is a better solution for that goal than the alternatives.
I’m sure Derek and Patrick agree with most of this, and choose the text file as the best candidate for them, given all the above. It’s just not for everyone.
More pablum. Nothing is the right solution for everyone. Except orgasms. Have as many as you can.
Plain text can’t save you if you lose the files – Jack Baty
Jack doesn’t disagree with the assertion that plain text is a good format. He prescribes good backups. That is good advice.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie.
Thanks to: Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels