• Culture and Society,  Pedagogy,  Software

    “I Will Survive” “I Will Survive” The Coronavirus Version for Teachers Going Online

    Via Michael Bruening:

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  • Software

    NetNewsWire 5.0b4

    Brent Simmons’ NetNewsWire is back. NetNewsWire 5.0b4 is a free and open source RSS reader for macOS. You can download the NetNewsWire 5.0 Beta version now, or wait if you’re not experienced regarding using beta software (this means being prepared to have bad things happen, like losing your data). Seriously, don’t use a beta if you can’t afford to lose data. That’s not a reflection on NetNewsWire or Ranchero; that’s the nature of beta software.

    If you are comfortable with beta software, the NetNewsWire Help book is online. Don’t miss the keyboard shortcuts. Me, I’m already using NetNewsWire, and am so happy to have it back. It took me two minutes to import my feeds via an OPML file I exported from Feedly. They imported perfectly, including the folders I set up to keep the organizd. I’ve enabled the Safari extension to make adding new feeds something I can do directly from Safari.

    I’m able to go through the 170+ feeds I subscribe to easily and mark the ones I want to come back to or blog with a star, which will save them locally so I can write offline. The keyboard shortcuts make it so much easier, and more time efficient than Feedly. I’ll easily save at least an hour a day just by using NetNewsWire.

    I couldn’t be happier to have an old friend back. Thanks so much Brent.

  • iOS,  Productivity,  Software

    TextExpander

    I’ve written about TextExpander before, because I’ve been a constant user for a little more than seven years. And now, with TextExpander 5, it’s even more useful.

    Recall your best words. Instantly, repeatedly.Smile Software’s TextExpander is a macOS and iOS utility that saves keystrokes by expanding a short abbreviation that you type, with whatever text you have previously associated with that abbreviation (a TextExpander Snippet). When you type the abbreviation, TextExpander automatically expands it to a short phrase, a date, a name, a paragraph or or pages of text—whatever Snippet you’ve assigned to that abbreviation. You can even create Snippets that manipulate or format text from your clipboard before you paste the copied text to a document. You can share Snippets between your macOS app and your iOS apps.

    I use TextExpander all the time for email, for Web pages, for HTML and CSS and for creating templates for various kinds of notes and glosses. I use ddate, for instance, any time I want to insert today’s date in a document, and TextExpander inserts the current  date for me. I write a lot html; while I use BBEdit for most CSS and HTML, when I’m writing blog posts in particular, I rely on TextExpander to quickly insert tags. TextExpander is particularly helpful in terms of short cuts for CSS I and tags like cite or blockquote that I use a lot. I type ,blockquote or ,cite and TextExpander expands the abbreviation to the paired tag, with my cursor right between the open and close tags, so I can easily paste the quotation or or the book title that I’ve previously copied.

    TextExpander is a core part of my workflow, for writing of all kinds. I use TextExpander to add closings and sigs to my emails, letting me quickly customize the closing to suit the occasion without taking my hands off the keyboard to reach a menu,  and for the body of emails that I send frequently. I also use TextExpander for boiler plate paragraphs and URLs that I frequently need to send to people. I particularly like that I can rely on TextExpander for names of products and publishers, and be sure that I’m using the canonical name every single time. I have a group of snippets for words that I frequently misspell or mistype. TextExpander inserts the correct spelling for me. I also use TextExpander for templates for documents I create frequently. I have a review template, HTML templates for several kinds of Web pages, a proposal template, and, perhaps most importantly, an invoice template.

    I send a lot of emails that are essentially the same, except for the name of the addressee, and a few variables. TextExpander makes that much more efficient and saves me time and keystrokes. Let’s pretend you’re thanking someone for a donation to a charity you volunteer for. Type the abbreviation you assigned to the form letter Snippet, and TextExpander creates a popup form. You enter a name, the amount of the donation, choose a category that the donation will go to from a list, and click OK. TextExpander generates the letter, places it on your clipboard, and you can paste it in whatever document you want, in whatever word processor or email app you favor. The new “Snippet Creation Assistant” (see below) walks you through creating similar Snippets yourself (In fact I stole this example from the Snippet Creation Assistant).

    Snippet Creation Assistant

    One of the new features in TextExpander 5.x is a Snippet Creation Assistant. This interactive tutorial walks you through creating your own Snippets—and it’s available at any time via the Help menu in TextExpander. The Snippet Creation Assistant walks you through adding several particularly useful groups of Snippets: Auto Correction, which automatically corrects commonly misspell and mistyped words, like that for that; a group of words that strictly speaking require accents, for instance, correcting crêpe to crêpe; and a group of CSS and HTML Snippets that will even create paired tags.

    Shared Snippets

    Other TextExpander users have created snippets that they share; you can download and install shared snippets, or, if you’re using the subscription version of TextExpander, shared snippets called Public Groups can be added to your TextExpander account.

    TextExpander saves me time and keystrokes. At this point, I wouldn’t want to write without TextExpander. I even use TextExpander Touch on my iPhone and iPad. I have access to all my Snippets on my Mac, my iPhone and my iPad via DropBox syncing. With a yearly subscription, you can keep all your snippets (and share them with friends or the public) on TextExpander’s servers.

    Suggested Snippets

    A new feature of TextExpander 5 and later are “Suggested Snippets.” TextExpander watches in the background while you work, and when it notices you using the same phrases frequently, adds the phrase to a list of “Suggested Snippets.” You can choose to turn Suggested Snippets off of course, but it’s useful to leave it on for a while. You might be surprised at how often you use the same phrases, and Suggested Snippets makes it very simply to turn those repeated used phrases (and sentences) into a Snippet that can reuse with a few key presses.

    I occasionally turn Suggested Snippets back on when I start working on a new book or project, and it makes creating project-specific Snippets a breeze.

    Take Control of TextExpander

    Purple cover of Take Control of TextExpander bookThe built in Help (via the TextExpander Help menu) is quite good, as are the user guides for the macOS and iOS apps, but I got a lot more out of TextExpander after reading Take Control of TextExpander, which is organized so that you can skip around and use the specific parts you need at any given moment, if you don’t want to read Take Control of Text Expander cover-to-cover. It also covers TextExpander Touch for iOS.

    This post uses affiliate links.

  • Productivity,  Software

    Bullet Journal App

    I’m still using my Bullet Journal® notebook, and Ryder Carroll has released a Bullet Journal app for iPhone, under the name Bullet Journal.app for $2.99. It’s available on iTunes or the app store.


    It’s not an app that functions as a an actual journal, rather, it’s intended to help people set up their first Bullet Journal, and be a guide to getting the most out of a Bullet Journal. The internal name is Bullet Journal Companion, and that’s apt; it’s a companion for your analog notebook. The app was released in February of 2017, and while I downloaded it then, I wasn’t really impressed. There have been several updates, and a new feature, the Library, has been added, as of the version released on May 17, 2017.

    When you launch the app, the first screen you see is a linked table of contents:

    Reflection

    The Reflection section is an exercise in mindfulness, as the Web page announcing the Bullet Journal Companion app notes:

    Keeping track of what you need to be doing is important. Keeping track of why you’re doing those things is critical. Reflection will help keep you focused on the why through daily trackable reminders prompting you to unplug and review your notes.

    The idea is that you set an AM and PM time to reflect each day on why you’re doing what you are doing. There are several inspirational quotations, and you can “log” or track the fact that you did in fact reflect by tapping a calendar date.  If you set up Notifications, the Bullet Journal Companion will remind you to reflect.  I’m not one to find this appealing, but others may.

    Library

    I think that the purpose of the Library is to allow you to use your iPhone’s camera to take photos of a BuJo® page, give the Bullet Journal app permission to use the photo, and then associate it with a specific journal, date range and one or more tags to create a digital index of sorts. The search function appears limited to tags, rather than actual contents. I suspect that there are plans to allow OCR or some better ways of locating data than tags; as it stands it’s not terrible useful, and it’s certainly not innovative (see for example EverNote or Moleskine notebooks and app or Baron Fig notebooks and Codex.app.

    Articles

    Most of the articles appear to be also available on the official BulletJournal Website, though I admit I can’t find the one on Reflection on the site. The articles are a useful resource, especially for those getting started.

    Guide


    The Pocket Guide is a version of the step by step setup guide Carroll wrote for his Website. It goes through the basics of creating your first bullet journal with a blank notebook. It’s quite useful in that respect, and much easier than trying to look at a Web site while you work. I would absolutely have found it helpful when I set up my bullet journal. It’s updated, by the way, when the app updates, but the content is local to your phone, which means you can use it without being connected to the ‘net.

     Store

    This appears to be an overview of the Official Bullet Journal notebook, also sold from the Website, but it doesn’t appear to be an actual store in terms of being able to buy one from your iPhone.

    The Guide has merit for those starting out, but not $2.99 worth. The free .pdf Starter Guide you can download when you subscribe to the Bullet Journal Newsletter is, in my mind, more helpful. I’m not outraged at spending $2.99, but the Bullet Journal Companion app strikea me as somewhat useless; it’s not going to stay on my phone.

  • Software,  Tips

    Adding Week Numbers to Apple’s iCal

    It is often helpful to know what week, out of the possible 52 weeks in a calendar year, a particular week is. Here’s how to tell Apple’s.app Calendar to show week numbers.

    1. Open Calendar.app(or iCal on earlier versions of macOS) on your Mac.
    2. Choose Preferences from the Calendar menu.
    3. Click Advanced in the Toolbar.
    4. Click the box to the left of Show week numbers.
    5. Close the window.

    Now look at your Calendar. You’ll see gray week numbers along the left margin of your Calendar.

    Image showing macOS calendar with week numbers
    macOS Calendar with week numbers

    To display week numbers in Google’s Calendar see this post.

  • Software,  Tips

    Adding Week Numbers to Google Calendar

    It is often helpful to know what week, out of the possible 52 weeks in a calendar year, a particular week is. Here’s how to tell Google Calendar to show week numbers.

    1. Log on to your Google Calendar
    2. In the sidebar to the left, click the pop-up menu for Other calendars.
    3. Select Browse Interesting Calendars from the pop-up menu.
    4. On the top of the Interesting Calendars page, click More.
    5. Click Subscribe to the right of Week Numbers.
    6. Click the Back to Calendar link to see your calendar, now with small blue week numbers in the top right corner of every Monday, next to the time setting at the top of the calendar.
    Image showing the week numbers in an image from Google Calendar
    Week Numbers in Google Calendar

    To add week numbers in macOS / OS X’s iCal, see this post.

  • iOS,  Software

    Brett Terpestra’s iOS iTextEditors Resource Page

    Brett Terpestra, the developer of the very useful OS X Marked app (a previewer for Markdown files), has created a page listing and describing iOS text editors.

    As Brett Terpestra notes:

    The information was compiled by the web community on an open Google spreadsheet. I cannot vouch for its current accuracy, but will be verifying everything as I’m able. It’s meant to help you find the most useful way to write, code or take notes for your personal needs. Every editor is geared toward a slightly different purpose, with their own strengths and focus.

    There are a bunch there that I’ve tried, and many that are new to me, but the way Brett has created a chart comparing features is really helpful. There really is an iOS text editor for everyone, and his detailed chart makes that clear.

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  • iOS,  Software,  Writing

    Markdown and Me

    As part of my determination to come up with a cleaner less keystroke-intensive workflow for all my writing, I’m taking a hard look at Markdown.

    Dustin Curtis' Markdown MarkI first heard about Markdown back in 2004. I’d been blogging for a few years, and and hand-coding HTML. I came to HTML with surface familiarity with SGML in a library and deep familiarity with WordPerfect and WordStar. I’d been following Dean Allen’s development of Textile, and using Brad Choate’s MT-Textile plug-in for MovableType. John Gruber of Daring Fireball (one of the blogs that introduced me to blogging) created Markdown (with assistance from Aaron Swartz) as a way to format text for the Web without having to delve into HTML. In 2004 Gruber wrote about Markdown:

    Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

    One of the virtues of Markdown is that it is easy to use, and easy to remember. In Markdown, you use *for bold*, _ for italic_. Headings are marked by a leading *for the largest heading, **for the next size down, ***for the next level. The tags are easier to remember and shorter than those for HTML. They’re minimalist, and less likely to obscure text and slow down writing or editing.

    John Gruber thoughtfully provides simple to understand Markdown syntax documentation.

    When I discovered that Gruber’s Markdown Perl scripts worked with MovableType (this blog ran on MovableType then), I installed it and used it for a while. When I moved from MovableType, I stopped actively using Markdown, but I remained interested in both Markdown and Textile (and even used TextPattern Dean Allen’s CMS bases on Textile). But recently, I became much more actively interested in Markdown for a couple of reasons.

    First, TidBITS, the publishers of Take Control ebooks, started  using Markdown as part of it’s work flow for creating Take Control ebooks. Next, Michael Cohen asked me to find a way to support Markdown in his WordPress Blog. He had become accustomed to writing in Markdown because of Take Control books. Secondly, publisher of The Magazine and smart tech writer Glenn Fleishman relied on Markdown format to produce The Magazine. Glenn’s enthusiasm about Markdown got me looking at Markdown much more closely than, say, learning enough Markdown to work on Wiki documents intended for internal documentation.

    Why Use Markdown

    • A Markdown file is liquid data; it’s going to be easy to convert in the future, just as it is easy now to covert Markdown formatted text files to HTML, RTF, .Doc, or .PDF.
    • Markdown means fewer keystrokes than HTML. That means less keyboarding and no reaching for a palette or button to click. The longest tag I know of is three characters in a row.
    • Markdown lets you use HTML as needed, without having to do anything exotic involving obscure technical feats or escape codes.
    • Markdown may be easier to implement than HTML when writing on an iPad. At least that’s my current theory.
    • Markdown allows you to concentrate on the text as content, rather than the text as document.

    Last year I wrote a long essay (eventually published by Boing Boing) that I initially drafted in Markdown, then hand-converted to HTML. I know, now, that there were better ways to do that, but I used BBEdit for the Markdown version and for the conversion to HTML, so it was relatively trivial to do. BBEdit not only fully supports Markdown as a language, it was one of the first applications Gruber provided Markdown tools for. The current version of BBEdit (11.0.2) has built in support for Markdown (including the ability to Preview Markdown files in BBEdit and customizable syntax coloring). And using Markdown in documents destined for the Web doesn’t mean I can’t simply insert any HTML I need that isn’t covered by Markdown tags.

    For any markup that is not covered by Markdown’s syntax, you simply use HTML itself. There’s no need to preface it or delimit it to indicate that you’re switching from Markdown to HTML; you just use the tags.— John Gruber

    If you want more BBEdit Markdown support, Watts Martin has created a nifty BBEdit Markdown Extension Package that builds on the work of John Gruber and Aaron Swartz, and adds some additional commands, not the least of which are Transformation commands to convert Markdown to HTML, HTML to Markdown, and Markdown to BBCode. There’s a catch to using Markdown in BBEdit; you have to set Markdown as a Language in BBEdit’s Preferences, and you need to use “.md” and “.mdown” as file name suffixes/extensions.

    I’m going to spend a few weeks or months deliberately using Markdown as much as possible. I’ve installed Watts Martins Markdown Extension Package in BBEdit. WordPress via a Jetpack plugin supports Markdown, and there are a number of dedicated Markdown editors for OS X (Markdown Pro from RADSense Software, Mou from 25.io, Typed from Realmac Software) and iOS (Editorial from OMZ Software, Byword from Metaclassy, and others).

  • Productivity,  Software,  Writing

    Workflow Changes

    Given the release of Yosemite for OS X and iOS 8, I’m taking the opportunity to re-examine and revise my writing workflow. I write a great deal, not only books and articles for publishers, but blog posts and email. I am an Admin for a number of large Websites. Two of the Websites include not only site Admin, but Managing Editor tasks, including answering questions from readers and general user support for contributors. Both of these Websites involves email either to individuals or to one of several private email lists. One of the Websites, Absolute Write, also has a forum. Absolute Write is a large, vibrant community for writers and supporting the community requires a fair amount of user / member  support, including writing (and answering) FAQs, emails, private email lists, local message systems, and the Absolute Write Website and blog.

    And then there are the Websites I admin for various writers, and my own Websites.

    It’s a lot of daily writing. And it’s fairly constant throughout the day (and night).

    I have some workflow tools in place:

    • I use TextExpander on all my iOS and OS X devices. Smile TextExpander is a huge labor and keystroke saver.
    • I use filters or “Rules” in Mail.app, but even so, I receive around 175 emails from individuals a day, and send about that many or more. (I’m increasingly considering an alternative to mail.app, at least on iOS, just to reduce mail-management frustrations.)
    • I use custom scripts and and droplets for many of my frequent tasks.

    Changes I’m considering:

    • I generally draft my shorter articles and blog posts in BBEdit using HTML. I’m going to look more closely at using Markdown, especially because Markdown is thriving on iOS, and BBEdit has built in support for Markdown.
    • I already use iOS a great deal for email triage (especially via my iPhone); I’d like to do more with email on iOS, especially responding to email on the iPad.
    • I’d like to try writing more of my shorter pieces on iOS. I can write longer pieces on the iPad more easily now with the Brydge + iPad keyboard.
    • I do a lot of writing in Google Docs/Google Drive, but for book-length pieces Google Docs is not optimal. I’d like to move to Apple’s Pages as my primary word processor, particularly given the newly released version of Pages with collaboration and sharing via the Web/iCloud and Pages for iOS, as well as on OS X.

    I’m sure I’ll discover more ways to improve my workflow as I continue.

I footnotes