Tot, Redux: iOS Edition

By way of follow-up to yesterday’s review of Tot, I can confirm I’ve bought the iOS version.

August 17, 2021 software review


Update: The day after writing this, I bought the iOS version of Tot.

My friend and Hemispheric Views podcast co-host Martin Feld is Mr. Default. He likes Reminders. He like He likes Calendar. Not for him the world of OmniFocus, MailMate or Fantastical. No sirree. Keep it simple, keep it made by Apple. Except… he uses Tot. I’m sure he uses Notes as well, but Tot. Not Drafts.

I installed Tot on my Mac when it was released, because as with anything made by The Iconfactory, it’s worth a look. I didn’t get it. It offers a 7 note maximum. It has limited Markdown support. Mostly, though, while the macOS app is free as in beer, the iOS version of the same app is AU$30.99. For a tiny notes app? So my exploration of Tot ended, and I went back to Drafts, and DEVONthink, and iA Writer, and Craft, and the list goes on.

Recently, I raised again my frustration with my note and file management system”. Martin reminded me of Tot. So I’ve been giving it another try. This time, my verdict feels quite different.

The limitations seem useful. The restrictions seem like helpful guiderails rather than annoyances. This all comes at a time when I’ve cancelled my automatic renewal of Drafts - an app I appreciate for its power, but hate because of its interface.

I’ve been using Tot on macOS only over the past few days. At this stage I can’t comment on how it works on iOS because I haven’t spend the money. I think I will, though.

I’ve written this short article in Tot (yellow page). It’s delightful. And, icing on the cake, this is a Mac-Assed Mac app which has full support for all the niceties of macOS, including Services. I love using Brett Terpstra’s SearchLink service. Tot loves using it too. After a week of reading about 1Password ditching native code in favour of Electron, the joy of using a native app is sweeter than usual.

So Tot. Write in it. Put ephemera in it. Switch between plain text with markdown and rich text. Share it somewhere else. You’ve got 7 notes. Use them wisely.

August 16, 2021 software review

BBEdit 14

I want to use and love BBEdit. I bought version 13 with a similar thought and feeling. That purchase seems like it was only a few months ago - in fact, I checked to see if I was eligible for the free upgrade. According to my receipt stored in 1Password, however, my v13 license was acquired on 21 December 2019. Time flies, especially in 2020, the year of our COVID.

I am not a coder. I don’t do any development. I understand the theory of regex and grep but rarely use them. I write an occasional blog article in Markdown, such as this one.

I have a bunch of well-designed Markdown editors that are purpose-built for writing blogs in Markdown. They have grammar-checks and nice management of links, images and feature great preview modes. They feature typewriter mode. As best I can tell, this is still not implemented in BBEdit 14.

But BBEdit is a Mac classic. It can do virtually anything with text (if you know how to drive it). That brings up the real weakness of BBEdit - a lack of support for the new user, and modern tutorials. BareBones, the developers, are old men. They write great documentation1 but offer zero modern promotion and support. The manual is great, but how about a YouTube channel with some tutorials? Where does a beginner start with this application?

The features added to BBEdit 14 seem helpful to developers. That’s not me. Jason Snell demonstrated some clever manipulation that can be achieved to help produce blogs. I don’t know how he did it. He talked about AppleScript, but didn’t provide the code. I presume this trick wouldn’t work out of BBEdit’s box.

Herein lies the problem with BBEdit. It’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s built for people who already use it and know how to use it. However, I would say this to the team at BareBones: if you’re building a software application, perhaps at some point you need to turn an eye to the new users. The ones that might otherwise choose the free Visual Studio Code. The ones who might already use the copy of iA Writer they own, or Drafts, Craft or Ulysses. Users like me?

I want to use BBEdit. But why should I? Perhaps I shouldn’t.

BareBones 14. I’m sure its great. But I can’t know, because I’m not experienced enough to say.

  1. The manual for BBEdit runs over 400 pages.↩︎

July 22, 2021 software review

Another Crack at Git

Not long ago on this site I stated that I was fed up with git and that I was switching back to Dropbox. I did. It was still infuriating because I refuse to install the Dropbox client for this one measly application.

So I’m back to git. Instead of using Atlassian’s Sourcetree for managing the files on my Mac, this time I’m going with GitHub Desktop. I chose Sourcetree the first time around because it was a native Mac app whereas GHD is an Electron app. Problem with Sourcetree was that I didn’t like it. Doesn’t matter how standards-compliant something is if it’s unenjoyable to use. So, despite the Electron-ness of Github, here I am. If you know of something better, let me know. There is an app called Gitfox in Setapp but I remember it didn’t wow me when I looked at it previously.

So this time I’m using GHD and have connected it to BBEdit. Last time I tried to use iA Writer. iA Writer offers a lovely writing environment but I felt I was fighting against it and iCloud sync the whole time. I never quite build the mental model for how it all hooked together. BBEdit is a code editor at its heart and it still a fine, stable writing application. It will do the job just fine.

On the iOS side of things I’ve reinstalled Working Copy. The problem is which text editor to use. Last effort I was using iA Writer. Do I stick with that? My friend Jason uses Textastic. Maybe that’s what I should go with?

Of course, the thing that none of this software shenanigans solves is actually writing. That’s still on me to do.

July 11, 2021 blot git dropbox workflow

July 11, 2021 #autism #youtube

The Archive

The Archive owes its heritage to nvAlt, which owes its heritage to Notational Velocity — a unique piece of software that broke new ground by integrating new note creation with search in an Omnibar. I’m old enough to remember using the original Notational Velocity. The Archive is true to the heritage of the OG, but moves it in a direction specifically suited to the zettelkasten philosophy of note taking.

What’s zettelkasten, you ask? It’s too much for this software review, but in short it’s a note taking methodology that sees the deconstruction of source material broken down into atomic facts/points, expressed in its own words by the note taker, and given a unique reference link such that it can be tied to other items of knowledge held within the corpus of notes.

A key to the zettelkasten, and thus key to The Archive, is the generation of a Note ID. Upon creation of a new note in The Archive it is given a Note ID which is a concatenation of YEAR MONTH DAY HOUR MINUTE. This ensures that every note can be identified as a unique item, because each note will have a different ID.

To tie these notes together, The Archive supports wiki-links, in the form of [[Note ID or Note Title]]. This makes it possible to create a web of notes, where each atomic note can be tied to others: a key requirement of a zettelkasten.

The app is a good Markdown citizen, and it supports the streaming API to Brett Terpstra’s Marked app. It can also be configured to use an external editor, should you have a preferred one. Given The Archive is quick and efficient, and supports typewriter mode, I don’t bother using an external editor.

The Archive allows you to generate and keep saved searches in a sidebar. This could be useful if you want to show all notes tagged with a particular #hashtag. I use it to break down my notes into years - by relying on the first element of the Note ID, which is the year.

A fun element of The Archive is the range of Keyboard Maestro add-ons that have been built for it. My favourites are the ones that search the notes corpus and allow for quick creation of wiki links. Make sure Keyboard Maestro has full disk access to guarantee some of these work, though.

The user community has built a range of alternative themes so the app is customisable to a point. It also supports multiple text corpuses (corpi?) but only one can be loaded at a single time. A corpus simply represents a folder of text files in the standard filing system, which means The Archive can be complementary to other Markdown/text editors. It doesn’t lock you in. While it doesn’t have an iOS app, the ability to work with files stored on a cloud storage platform means it works nicely with unrelated iOS text editors.

The Archive can be used as a replacement for nvAlt if that’s all you need. It feels more stable than that app. Of course, there is nvUltra in development - but that has had a very long gestation period, whereas The Archive is here and now.

March 28, 2021 software review