August 15, 2018

Finding the right Markdown editor is hard

I thought Ulysses would be the best. It has a beautiful appearance, is full-featured, gets many positive reviews, and I already have ownership (or at least subscription access) of it thanks to being a subscriber to Setapp.

I’ve been using Ulysses to draft the text of work reports that I ultimately layout in Word for traditional print publication, and it has performed that task admirably with a hefty library of words built-up within its overall library.

With its support for Markdown and a direct connect service for publishing via Wordpress, I figured Ulysses would work well for blogging. I have persisted with it for some time, but the obfuscated Markdown finally lost me. When writing for the web, markup matters. Links matter. Getting these integrated with the text quickly and easily matters. I was finding that Ulysses just made this too hard. Finally, when I tried to leverage Brett Terpstra’s SearchLink service, Ulysses would mangle the link entirely. That was the last straw; I had to search for alternatives.

I own Byword on macOS and iOS and tried going back to that; but for whatever reason it just feels old and unloved. There’s no joy in using that app, I’m afraid.

I was recommended to have a look at Typora for the Mac, which looks beautiful. I think it could be my preferred option on macOS. There’s no iOS version though.

I have long known that the other famous’ option in the realm of Markdown editors is iA Writer. I’ve watched it from afar over the years, but I gave up on them when they developed that terrible workflow’ approach to the app. I figured they had jumped the shark and stopped following the app’s development.

Recent research, however, brought me back to have a new look at iA Writer. It seemed to tick all the boxes — not the least of which was that Markdown code elements were not obfuscated when drafting text.

My research encouraged me to purchase iA Writer and try it for myself, so I have bought the iOS version. Writing this piece is my first trial-run with the app. So far, colour me impressed. It is simple and elegant. As I type it feels as though the words are just pouring out from the caret in a very satisfying way.

In drafting this text, I have been impressed with the keyboard shortcuts of iA Writer, especially in getting Markdown links into the app. I can even just put the cursor within a word - not actually select it - and with a Cmd-K it wraps that word and pastes the URL from my clipboard. Being on iOS I can’t use the SearchLink service, but this at least makes the copy/paste dance bearable.

Unfortunately, despite this great first impression on iOS, I’m not so excited about is paying AU$8 for the iOS version and then looking over and seeing they are charging AU$48 for the equivalent iA Writer for Mac. That is a heck of a price differential for the same app just residing on a different platform. I think any text editing I do with iA Writer will be limited to iOS. This will negate some of the iCloud sync benefits, which is a bummer because having the same library of text anywhere, on any device, is basically table stakes at this point.

Furthermore, with Dropbox access being through the iOS Files app - albeit integrated into iA Writer, I just had a heck of a time trying to move this very file from iCloud to Dropbox. I ultimately had to do it from the Files app in iOS. Maybe I’m missing something? To publish to this blog on Blot.im, though, I just need to place a file in Dropbox. It’s a shame that there is not more direct integration with Dropbox, but I understand it is an API deprecation issue, so I can’t really blame iA Writer for this — but it does make things more cumbersome.

Where to from here? I’m not sure. Of course, the greatest thing about writing in Markdown is that it is just plain text. I can write it with any app. So I can continue to bounce around to my heart’s content, trying and experimenting to find the best app and the most efficient workflow. And if that isn’t hobbyist computing at its finest, then what is?

August 14, 2018

Blogging as an exercise in thought

Micro.blog has introduced me to a number of new bloggers I would never have otherwise discovered. These are smart, intelligent people going about their lives in another part of the world, completely unrelated to me. Yet the way they think, communicate and share ideas online is very familiar.

A recent connect is Sameer VastaVasta on micro.blog — a resident of Ontario, Canada. He claims to overuse the discretionary comma, a problem that I too, face on a regular basis.

Just over a month ago, Sameer celebrated 20 years(!) of blogging. His post to recognise this milestone was great. I’ve picked out a couple of comments that resonated with me. Of course, I encourage you to read the entire post.

For me, blogging has always been about thinking out loud, and about allowing my thoughts and ideas to evolve and grow, through time, out in a public sphere where I’m connected to others who are thinking out loud and growing, too. For me, blogging has always had a small b.

This approach to blogging throws down the gauntlet before me. I have a tendency to want my blog posts to be fully baked’ before publishing. Sameer’s construction is to present blogging as a continuous process - not an end product.

I’ve begun talking about my blog as my thought space,” as well, after reading a short reflection by Om a few weeks ago

As this canion.me site is new, I don’t have a defined purpose for it yet. I started it to satisfy a hobbiest’s itch. Perhaps encapsulating it as my thought space’ might be a good use of the domain.

If someone asks me what my blog is about, now, I’m going to tell them it is my thought place, it is a conversation with myself and with others, and that it is my way of getting better at writing the truth. That’s what it has been for twenty years, and that’s what I hope for it to be for at least another twenty.

I’ve blogged in the past, previously for a number of years at twosittingducks.com (no longer up, and rest in peace Movable Type). Now I have blogs at blog.andrewcanion.com and here at canion.me plus a micro.blog.

Despite my renewed enthusiasm for the medium, I can only dream of blogging consistently for 20 years. However, I would like to think that the blogging I do from this point forward is how Sameer describes it; an opportunity to think and ruminate publicly and thus be open to discourse with others. That will ideally allow my thoughts to grow and develop, without being stuck inside an echo chamber. If that can occur, my blogging will be a more successful enterprise than present-day social media offers.

August 13, 2018

Use of Mental Models in Parenting ➜

This is where mental models can help. As in any other area of your life, developing some principles or models that help you see how the world works will give you options for relevant and useful solutions. Mental models are amazing tools that can be applied across our lives. Here are five principle-based models you can apply to almost any family, situation, or child. These are ones I use often, but don’t let this limit you—so many more apply!

From The Farnham Street Blog, a thoughtful look at how the use of mental models can provide a more strategic approach to wrangling those children.

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August 13, 2018

This is such a handy use for TextExpander. It’s these simple but delightful elements related to using a Mac that make it so much fun, and productive.

Thanks to David Sparks and the new Automators podcast for this video guide.