January 19, 2017

Hemingway Now Writes and Edits

Hemingway iconHemingway icon

Product: The Hemingway Editor Desktop Application
Price: $19.99

I am trying to be a better writer. That quest to be a better writer takes me to the Hemingway Editor application. There is a web app. I prefer the desktop application and it has a new upgrade to version 3.0.

The Hemingway app aims to improve your writing style. It provides a Readability score. It analyses the structure and content of your sentences. It highlights passive voice, the adverbs, and phrases which have simpler alternatives. It also highlights sentences which are hard or very hard to read.

I use it along with iA Writer's Syntax Control when I am editing to improve the flow and readability of my writing.

Write Stage

The Hemingway Desktop Application now has two distinct stages. One is the Write stage. Gives you a minimalistic window to input text. Supports the following format elements:

  1. Headings (three levels)
  2. Bold and italic
  3. Quotes and Links
  4. List both bulleted and numbered

Hemingway Write StageHemingway Write Stage

I am surprised at the lack of explicit keyboard commands for the formatting commands. There are buttons at the top of the document to help you format your document. I don't mind the buttons, but I want keyboard commands. Some of the keyboard commands do exist but they are not documented.  ⌘B for bold and ⌘I for italic works. ⌘K works for inserting a link. There are no keyboard commands for bulleted or numbered lists. But you can outdent a bulleted paragraph (⌘[) or indent a bulleted paragraph (⌘]). 

There are some keyboard commands to manipulate the environment. ⌘J to toggle between Write and Edit Mode. ⌘L to toggle on/off the right sidebar.

The full screen mode is usable and it is not a bad environment to work in. 

Edit Stage

Hemingway Edit StageHemingway Edit Stage

After you finish writing you move on to the Edit stage. The edit stage gives you a nice colorful overview of how your document is doing. It gives you suggestions to improve the style of your content. 

It is a great way of improving the readability of your writing.

General Comments

Hemingway imports plain text files (.txt), Markdown files (.md), Web pages (.html) or Word documents. It lets you export your writing to the same formats. Additionally you can export to pdf files and even Hemingway highlighted pdf files.

This ability to export Hemingway highlighted pdf files makes the product useful to give feedback to your co-writers.

Improvements

These are the specific improvements I would like:

  1. More keyboard commands.
  2. Support Markdown. Let me write markdown tables and footnotes.
  3. Typewriter scrolling in full screen mode.

Conclusions

Hemingway app is another tool in my arsenal. I use it to improve as a writer. It might help you too. I recommend it.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Writing
January 15, 2017

iconicon

iA Writer Keyboard Commands

I didn't find a comprehensive list of keyboard commands for iA Writer. So, I made one.

Menu Item Keyboard Command
File Menu
New ⌘N
New in Library ⌥⌘N
New in Library in Window ⇧⌘N
Open ⌘O
Open Quickly ⇧⌘O
Close ⌘W
Save ⌘S
Save As… ⇧⌘S
Export… ⇧⌘E
Print ⌘P
Print Plain Text… ⌥⌘P
Page Setup… ⇧⌘P
Edit Menu
Undo Typing ⌘Z
Redo ⇧⌘Z
Cut ⌘X
Copy ⌘C
Copy Formatted ⌥⌘C
Copy HTML ⇧⌘C
Paste ⌘V
Delete
Select All ⌘A
Find… ⌘F
Find Again ⌘G
Find Previous ⇧⌘G
Find and Replace… ⌥⌘F
Search Library ⇧⌘F
Show Spelling and Grammar ⌘:
Check Document Now ⌘;
Start Dictation… ⌃⌥⇧⌘D
Emoji & Symbols ⌃⌘Space
Format Menu
Heading 1 ⌘1
Heading 2 ⌘2
Heading 3 ⌘3
Heading 4 ⌘4
Heading 5 ⌘5
Heading 6 ⌘6
Unordered List ⌘L
Unordered Task List ⌥⌘L
Ordered List ⇧⌘L
Ordered Task List ⌥⇧⌘L
Mark Task as Completed ⌘.
Structure>Shift Right
Structure>Shift Left ⇧⇤
Structure>Move Line Up ⌥⌘↑
Structure>Move Line Down ⌥⌘↓
Body Text ⌘0
Strong ⌘B
Emphasis ⌘I
Add Link ⌘K
Add Footnote ⌃⌘K
Clear Styles ⌥⌘⌫
View Menu
Focus Mode ⌘D
Typewriter Mode ⌘T
Syntax>Enable Last Used ⇧⌘D
Night Mode ⌃⌘N
Show Library ⌘E
Show Preview ⌘R
Increase Text Size ⌘+
Decrease Text Size ⌘-
Enter Full Screen ⌃⌘F
Window
Minimize ⌘M
Zoom ⌃⌥⌘F

Emacs keyboard commands which work in iA Writer

Command Behavior
⌃K Deletes from the cursor to the end of the current line
⌃O Inserts a new line after the cursor. The cursor stays in the current line
⌃B Moves the cursor one character to the left
⌃F Moves the cursor one character to the right
⌃N Moves the cursor down one line
⌃P Moves the cursor up one line
⌃E Moves the cursor to the end of the current line. If you use word wrap, the cursor moves to the physical, not the displayed, end of the current line
⌃A Moves the cursor to the beginning of the current line. If you use word wrap, the cursor moves to the physical, not the displayed, beginning of the current line
⌃V Scrolls down within the document

Additions Made Through KeyboardMaestro

There were some menu items which I thought would be improved by adding keyboard commands to them. I used KeyboardMaestro to add them to iA Writer.

Table of ContentsTable of Contents

Additions Made Through KeyboardMaestro
Add Table of Contents ⌃C
Add Page Break ⌃P
Add Horizontal Rule ⌃R
Add Table ⌃T

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

iA Writer Keyboard
January 12, 2017

Gerald Durrell, His Family and Other Animals

"My Family and Other Animals." That was the title of the book sitting on the counter. Made me smile. I can honestly say I picked up the book simply because I liked the title.

It was 1975. I was 14 years old, living in Calcutta. I didn't have access to a library or enough money. So access to books was limited. I had an aunt who read, but she was kind of mean, not the sharing type. She was rich and had books but she never let me borrow them. Could have had something to do with her lipsticks.

If you twist a lipstick open and then close the lid on it, it gets stuck and messy. When you yank open the lid the lipstick opens with a plop sound. It doesn't really work as a lipstick at that point, but I had no need for lipsticks and I loved that sound. Four year old me tried to repeat that sound with all of her lipsticks. She never shared her books with me. I can't blame her. Anyone who has such an irrational love of the plop sound surely can't be trusted to take care of books.

No library and not enough money meant that my source of books was a rental bookstore. The older me realizes that this enterprise was definitely illegal. They would buy books, reinforce the binding and rent them out. A book in India at that time could cost about 20 rupees. But you could rent a newly released book for two days for 2.50 rupees (additional days required .50 rupees each). Older books were cheaper and you could keep them longer. The selection was predominantly fiction. There were different categories of books, the Robert Ludlum was expensive, the Mills and Boon was not. My mother and I were good customers of this shop in the neighborhood. It was illegal because you are not supposed to make money renting out a book. It is a violation of the copyright laws, but those things were unknown and didn't mean much to a person who was just looking to read some books.

CoverCover

That bookstore is where I found the book "My Family and Other Animals." It was written by a guy called Gerald Durrell, I didn't know anything about him. But the title got me. I took it home.

Evenings consisted of homework and then reading whatever book was available. Black and white TV was available in India at that point, but my family couldn't afford a TV set. You don't miss what you don't know about, so I didn't miss TV. I loved my books. Gerald Durrell transported me into the world of Corfu. I didn't know where that was. A look at the atlas and I found out that it was a Greek island. I didn't know much about the Greeks either, but I had heard of Plato and Aristotle. This was bound to be eye-opening.

I loved the characters. I loved the eccentricities of the British. No one does eccentric like the British. I laughed. I cried. I learned about exotic insects. It was an enthralling experience. I devoured the next book in the series, "Birds, Beasts, and Relatives."

I introduced my mean aunt to the books. She reciprocated by actually letting me borrow a book by James Herriot. I am going to talk about him and his books in a later post.

I find that the Corfu books are a trilogy. They are available at Amazon, here.

If you want, you can catch the stories in the TV series, The Durrell's in Corfu. The complete first season is available here.

I prefer the books but you can't go wrong with either.

As you can tell by now, I heartily recommend them.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Books
January 9, 2017

TextNut Reimagines Zen Mode

TextNut Mac IconTextNut Mac Icon

Product: TextNut
Price: $24.99

TextNut is a note-taking app available from the Mac App Store. It has an iOS version and a macOS version. I had reviewed TextNut on November 2, 2015.

It occurs to me that applications are not static creations. Specially when developers keep updating them, refining them, and tweaking them. TextNut is one of those apps which gets regular update love from its developer. I am going to periodically revisit the apps I have written about to get a feel of where they are in their current iteration. This gives me an opportunity to revisit my review and check the progress of the application.

Let me tell you that TextNut surprised me. It is much improved over the iteration I reviewed a little more than a year ago.

Note-taking apps have two components to them:

  1. The Feature Set. This is the usual list of things which are build into these apps. Markdown support, or rich text support. Which flavor of markdown they are supporting. Where the files are going to be stored. What format the files are going to be stored in. Import and export features. How do you import a list of files you have, what kind of formats are supported in the import feature. Do tags automatically come along? What formats can you export the documents in?
  2. The Usability Component. How satisfying is it to work in the program? The note-taking apps see a lot of use for the inveterate note-taker. It is an app which tends to be always active on the users machine. How convenient is it to work in? What are the additional touches the developer has included in the application to make the act of note-taking pleasurable and easy?

Looking at my review from 2015-11-02 I find that the feature set of TextNut was competitive in the marketplace. At that point, it lacked an iOS version and that was something I thought needed to be launched for the product to be useful. There is now an iOS version and iCloud support. Thus, it is a cross-platform complete note-taking solution.

My main complaints about TextNut was the usability component of it. I am going to quote from my writing on a feature which TextNut highlighted, Zen Mode.

I don't see the benefits of Zen mode. It does not include typewriter scrolling. It is just an attempt to take away the chrome from your editing window. In zen mode, the title bar disappears and the sidebar disappears. Seems to me that this is a pretty standardized implementation in almost all of these markdown based editors. Byword, iA Writer, and a whole host of its competitors do a much better job of providing an environment for you to write in. Zen mode in TextNut is an imperfect and incomplete implementation of an old idea. Ulysses the main competitor to this product does this in much more innovative ways.

I was not done.

Again, it seems to me that TextNut is aware of a feature in this space, but doesn’t care enough to implement it with any degree of precision or thought. If you have a three-panel application, it is not at all unusual to hide two of the panels and focus on the editor panel. Every application in this space does this. Calling it “zen mode” is just marketing hogwash and lazy. There is nothing zen about this mode. Just hiding the chrome around the window and the panels doesn’t equate to any zen you are going to be happy in. How could this be improved? Add typewriter scrolling, focus on sentence or paragraph, let me implement typewriter scrolling at any point I want. Try to provide an environment which lets me write better: then you can call it zen.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that my innate grumpiness comes through in my writing. I don't know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is.

Well, back to zen mode. My suggestions were:

  1. Add typewriter scrolling. Done.
  2. Focus on sentence or paragraph. Done.
  3. Implement typewriter scrolling at any point I want. Done.
  4. Provide an environment which lets me write better. Done.

TextNut Zen ModeTextNut Zen Mode

As you can see zen mode is now much better. It is a great place to write. It has moved from "marketing hogwash" to a feature set which is useful and adds value to my writing life. I like working in TextNut, in zen mode.

TextNut gives me the ability to have multiple folders in my note-taking program. It lets me work in markdown. Markdown implemented well. It provides a fantastic writing environment in zen mode, and that helps me be productive. It is at this point a true competitor to Ulysses and Bear.

Comparison with Ulysses and Bear

  1. Markdown. TextNut implements markdown better than Ulysses. Ulysses can't make up its mind about markdown. Their support of markdown is abysmal. If you don't use markdown, and write in plain text, Ulysses is a great solution. For markdown? TextNut beats it handily.
  2. Proprietary database. Both Ulysses and Bear maintain their documents in a proprietary database. TextNut deals with text files with a markdown extension. Being reliant on text files and having amassed a bunch of them over the years, TextNut is the preferred solution for me. I don't like depending on an applications existence to have access to my files. My text files are not dependent on any one program, they are always accessible. I prefer that. Both Ulysses and Bear do a great job of providing you with the option of exporting the files out to a text file but I am not sure I need that extra step.
  3. Writing environment: Ulysses and TextNut are both great places to write in. They both provide you with the added polish of a writing environment devoid of friction. Bear is new. They have been busy implementing features. I am sure they will get to improving the writing environment, but they are not there yet.

Recommendations for improvement

TextNut could be improved by:

  1. Fix the bugs. The program has a few bugs in it still. Once in a while the screen redraws and it is distracting. Adding a large number of files through a linked folder makes the program crash once in a while.
  2. Give us the ability to add notes to the program without making TextNut the active application. A system wide keyboard command which brings up a modal dialog box where I can add content. The note gets saved in an inbox for later storage or I choose the folder I want to save to right in the dialog box.
  3. Give us more themes. Or let users share themes between themselves. This will increase the stickiness of the program too.

Conclusion

TextNut is heartily recommended. If you are looking for a note-taking program which deals with multiple folders of files, deals with text files, and has a fantastic environment to just write, TextNut is clearly one of the leaders in the market space at this point.

I recommend TextNut heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS TextNut Writing
January 5, 2017

Revisions for Dropbox Is an Essential Addition to Dropbox

Product: Revisions for Dropbox
Price: Free (In-App purchase adds some features $6.99 -$9.99)

Revisions IconRevisions Icon

Thanks to my mixed iOS and macOS workflow, I use Dropbox a ton. All my document files are hosted by Dropbox.

RevisionsRevisions

Revisions is an application which displays all your Dropbox edits, shows exactly what changes were made, and provides unlimited undo going back 30 days (or more).

Revisions FoldersRevisions Folders

Revisions lets you select any folder in your Dropbox (including deleted folders) and displays a list of edits of files in that folder (including any subfolders).

Revisions OptionsRevisions Options

You get to view, restore, download, or compare every version of the document. The comparison is done by apps like Kaleidoscope, Araxis Merge, Changes, TextWrangler or BBEdit. I use Changes for this and one these days I am going to write about Changes.

Why Is Revisions Better Than What Dropbox Provides?

The Dropbox web interface gives you an useful Events page which provides a timeline of edits. Revisions is a better solution for the following reasons:

  1. Revisions lets you select an arbitrary folder to inspect.
  2. Revisions lets you compare two versions of a file to see the changes.
  3. In Revisions, you can revert a large set of files to some earlier point in time, in one shot. You can do this one file at a time in Events but not a batch restore.

Revisions is just a better thought out tool to provide versioning capabilities to your Dropbox storage.

Recommendation

This is the best solution to manage the versioning feature in Dropbox. If keeping track of edits and changes are important to you, this is an essential tool for Dropbox users.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS Dropbox Revisions Versioning