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Posts tagged with "plain text"

The Markdown Payoff

Hilton Lipschitz, writing about switching to Markdown and whether it paid off:

The key to Markdown writing is that you focus on the content. Structure, format, look and feel are all secondary. It’s pure distraction-free writing. Which means that you have no choice but to write and think about writing and focus on the content. Which encourages you to become a better writer.

For me, Markdown has singlehandedly revolutionized the way I can put together articles for MacStories without wasting hours over HTML and RTF issues.

I used to write in the WYSIWYG editor of WordPress, which meant that I often ended up with strange formatting in my posts and I didn’t have any local copies of my files because there were no files. If the browser tab crashed and I hadn’t saved a draft, the post was gone and I had to start over from scratch. I didn’t want to use Word for Mac and pasting from Pages created even more issues with formatting in WordPress (we are talking about 2009-2010 WordPress), so I stuck with writing in the browser. And it was terrible.

Since I switched to Markdown in late 2012, I have generated an archive of over 600 plain text files that are fully searchable, indexed by Spotlight and Dropbox, and readable by any operating system. Thanks to plain text, my articles and notes are portable and I can switch text editors whenever I want. When I convert to HTML and I see that everything looks good, I get a geeky serotonin kick that reminds why I will never write in the WordPress editor again.

Markdown and related services1 make it easy to add links, formatting, tables, footnotes and to generate HTML with a wide array of settings and options; because of that simplicity I have written more, fixed more typos, and generally dealt with more readable files. Markdown didn’t merely pay off – I don’t know how I’d go back to any other format at this point. It’s just natural.

Tools may not make me a better writer, but Markdown allowed me to ignore the bureaucracy of web publishing, enabling me to write complete articles from anywhere. I’m thankful that it exists.


UpWord Notes Adds TaskPaper Tweaks

In my original review of UpWord Notes for iPhone, I noted that the app didn’t support TaskPaper’s syntax in any way, which was surprising considering that UpWord is a todo app that relies on plain text, just like TaskPaper.

In today’s relatively minor 1.0.5 update, UpWord Notes added support for marking notes as complete with “@done” and for quickly adding tabs with a two-finger gestures – both enhancements are aimed at TaskPaper users. While UpWord is still far from being a fully functional TaskPaper client, these additions introduce a first layer of compatibility that makes using UpWord with TaskPaper files a bit more feasible. UpWord has handy reminder and favorite features, which are typically absent from plain text apps and systems, and if I were to switch from my Fantastical/Reminders todo system (not happening any time soon), I’d consider TaskPaper with UpWord.

UpWord Notes is $0.99 on the App Store.


Creating and Sharing Text Files In Launch Center Pro

When Launch Center Pro 2.2 was released last month, I mentioned the addition of Dropbox actions for creating and modyfing text files, but I didn’t share any action example because I couldn’t find a possible use of the feature in my workflow. This morning, I realized that my old workflow to generate and share text files with Dropbox could be simplified with Launch Center Pro, so I rewrote it using the app’s new Dropbox functionalities.

I often need to create text files and share them quickly with Dropbox. These are usually notes that don’t fit in a Twitter DM or long crash reports for developers of apps I’m testing. In my old workflow, I used to type file name and file contents in Launch Center Pro, then, with two steps of inter-app communication, upload the file with Drafts, get the shareable link back with Launch Center Pro, and start a new tweet with the link in Tweetbot.

The workflow still gets the job done but the new version is simpler, faster, and more flexible. It’s just three steps:

  • Type file name;
  • Type file contents;
  • Get public link to text file in Dropbox.

With a single action that doesn’t involve switching between apps, I can type a file name in a Launch Center Pro prompt, insert contents manually or by pasting, and hit Done to create a text file in Dropbox. Launch Center Pro gets the link of the just-created file and presents an iOS share sheet with a series of options for the file’s public link so that I’m not limited to Tweetbot anymore; I discovered that I often needed to DM or email a link, and with the old workflow I was forced to start a new tweet then select and copy the link manually from it. With the new action, everything happens inside Launch Center Pro in seconds and I can pick the best option for me (it’s usually “Copy”).

I was skeptical as to whether I would need Dropbox actions in Launch Center Pro, but this workflow shows some clear benefits of Contrast’s app – keyboard prompts and a native share sheet combined with Dropbox text features make for a quick and elegant note-taking and sharing experience.

You can download the action here.

Matching URLs In Editorial with John Gruber’s Regex Pattern

Editorial for iPad

Editorial for iPad

When I’m writing in Editorial, I often need to make sure I’m dealing with a valid URL in the system clipboard, the document editor, or in a variable. To do so, I’ve long employed John Gruber’s liberal, accurate regex pattern for matching URLs, which has reliably allowed me to confirm that a workflow is about to handle a proper URL rather than a string of text that contains something else. Gruber recently improved the regex pattern again, and that seemed like a good opportunity to briefly detail how I’ve integrated his pattern in my workflows.

The key to match URLs and provide error-handling features in Editorial is to use a conditional block based on a regular expression pattern. Editorial comes with this functionality built-in: given a regex pattern, a block of actions can be run only if a value (plain text or variable) matches the pattern. In this way, you can run a set of actions if you have a URL, and another set if you don’t have a valid URL.

I’ve created a simple workflow that can be installed and reused as a preset in other workflows. The workflow, called Match and Open URL, consists of a single If block that checks for a URL contained in the clipboard. If you have a URL that matches Gruber’s pattern, the URL will be extracted from the clipboard and launched in the browser; if you don’t have a URL…it’s up to you to provide an alternative.

Editorial makes it extremely easy to build this kind of advanced workflow with just a few built-in actions. Gruber’s single-line version of the regex pattern can be pasted in Editorial’s If action with no modifications; inside the If block, the text in the clipboard is passed to a Find action that extracts a URL using the same, untouched single-line regex pattern. The extracted URL is opened in the browser and a HUD alert is displayed.

Combining Gruber’s regex pattern and Editorial’s workflow system can yield interesting results. You could use a variable instead of the system clipboard to match URLs; you could implement the pattern in a Repeat block that performs a set of actions for every matched URL found in the target text; instead of having my workflow inside an If block, you could match a URL among other bits of text, extract it, and do something with it. Editorial is a text automation playground and your imagination’s the limit.

You can download the workflow on Editorial Workflows’ website, and check out John Gruber’s regex pattern here.

Note: The screenshot above shows a beta version of Editorial, currently in testing.

TextTool: Text Manipulation On iOS



It used to be that, to do nerd stuff, you had to get a Mac or PC. As iOS progressed over the years, however, developers saw that users were spending a lot of time trying to do work on their iPhones and iPads, and started building utilities that packed powerful functionalities in what looked like “just an app”. We got Drafts and Launch Center Pro, calendar apps and password managers just as powerful as their desktop counterparts, and, of course, apps to script iOS and a text editor with its own workflow system. To sum up: iOS is still maturing, but there’s no shortage of nerdy apps and utilities at this point.

iOS is great for quick text entry thanks to the portability of an iPhone or iPad mini, but doing advanced text manipulation is a bit tricky unless you want to get dirty with Editorial and Python scripts. On the Mac, it’s easy to fire up Automator and create a workflow that takes a line of text and turns it Into Title Case or UPPERCASE; even going the extra mile and building services to take selected text and indent it or swap spaces with tabs takes a few minutes, but it’s doable with a basic knowledge of built-in OS X tools. On iOS? There’s no Automator (yet?), so, until today, if you wanted to do automated text transformations you’d have to get Editorial and Pythonista or use some of Launch Center Pro’s (limited) text filters.

Craig Pearlman noticed this problem and built TextTool, a $4.99 Universal app that comes with 28 built-in text transformations that you can use inside the app’s text editor or chain to other iOS apps with URL schemes and workflows.

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TaskAgent 3 for iOS 7

Before OmniFocus and Reminders, TaskAgent was my todo management system of choice for a long time. TaskAgent lets you manage todos in lists that are synced to Dropbox as plain text files that you can edit on the desktop using any app you want. They look like todos in TaskAgent, but they’re actually lines of plain text that, if you want, you can interact with in various ways (perhaps with IFTTT or other automated workflows).

Developer Francisco Cantu released version 3 of TaskAgent alongside the launch of iOS 7 as a new free app with a $1.99 In-App Purchase. The app is limited to three lists, and you can unlock unlimited lists, URL scheme actions, Archive, and folder management if you want more. The app has been rewritten and redesigned for iOS 7, and Cantu is working on compatibility fixes for the Mac counterpart.

I use Reminders these days, so TaskAgent isn’t really for me anymore. However, if the idea of managing todos as plain text lists intrigues you, I’d recommend trying the free version of TaskAgent 3.


CriticMarkup: Plain Text Syntax for Editorial Reviews



Gabe Weatherhead is a good friend who writes and makes great stuff. Together with Erik Hess (MacStories readers may remember his particular iPad workflow), he launched CriticMarkup, a new project I’ve helped testing for the past few weeks.

Essentially, CriticMarkup is a plain text syntax for marking up text in editorial reviews. For someone who writes in Markdown and works with a team on a daily basis, CriticMarkup is the missing piece of a puzzle that required using clunky software like Word for Mac to do any sort of change tracking or markup. CriticMarkup feels like an extension of Markdown in that it allows you, through a simple and easily understandable syntax, to insert additions, deletions, substitutions, comments, and highlights into plain text.

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Send Selected OmniFocus Task to Plain Text File

I save a lot of stuff into OmniFocus: bits of text, URLs, emails. I used to save favorite tweets into it, too. The app’s Quick Entry panel is so easy to invoke and so well-integrated with core parts of OS X  that, most of the time, I find myself clipping information that shouldn’t be into OmniFocus at all. However, I also find the process of manually going through that information beneficial to my workflow: it allows me to mentally and practically separate actionable items (tasks) from things to read and things to write (Instapaper material and my future articles, essentially).

I have created a simple AppleScript to send the selected OmniFocus task to a text file. The script is meant for how I use OmniFocus; hopefully you’ll find it useful as well. Feel free to modify it.

Typically, when I decide to go through my OmniFocus inbox, I find a lot of tasks that are actually ideas of things I want to do or write. Ideas don’t go into OmniFocus. Until those ideas become actionable items, I send them to a text file so I can elaborate on them and see if they can evolve. Like I said, most of the time those ideas are for new articles.

I store all my notes in a single Apps/ directory on my Dropbox. Based off the same AppleScript, I have created a Keyboard Maestro macro to create a new text file for each processed task; this is for ideas I know will turn out to be single, standalone articles. For ideas I’m not so sure about, I prefer to append them as text to an Ideas.txt file I keep in Dropbox as an “everything bucket” for inspiration. Read more