April 17, 2020 at 12:58pm

Writing for the Web

Why Word documents are not great for the web, and why plain text files written in Markdown’ syntax are the way to go when writing anything destined for online delivery.

Microsoft Word was designed for writing in an era when the finished result would be a printed page. There is still a place for that - and often the printed page is now a generated PDF.

The web, however, is of different origins. By its nature, web content needs to be:

  1. Flexible
  2. Semantic

Let’s consider each in turn. Flexible’ means that it needs to adjust to the capabilities of the renderer. In the early days, this was a text-based browser versus a graphical one. Nowadays, it’s about viewports - how big is the window and screen, or what device is it being displayed upon? The text needs to sensibly fit and flow to whatever display is being used. Word documents only need to look good on the pseudo-page it has been designed for.

Semantic means that there is meaning within the content. Word has the concept of styles, which few people use. The web uses line definitions, so you can nominate a line to be of Heading 1’ type, or unordered list’ type (i.e. bullets). When you do these in Word, you are changing an appearance that is specific to that document. On the web, you can’t trust that everybody has the same fonts, resolution, or display capabilities. So instead, you semantically describe the text, and let the end device decide how that will look.

That Sounds Complicated, I Don’t Want to Write HTML

I agree, that is complicated, and that is why Markdown was invented - to make writing for the web easier than writing in Word!

To write for the web, use a plain text editor. Forget Word - that’s not the right tool for the job. There are some brilliant editors available that are optimised for writing Markdown, but you can use the most basic editor, such as NotePad on Windows.

My favourite Markdown-focused text editor which is available for all platforms is iA Writer. It’s awesome.

Writing in Markdown

The best way to explain Markdown is to show it.

Each Heading is preceded by a #. So my major headings are written as # My Title. Next level headings are written ## Next Level Heading. Your text stays text. Later, it gets converted and rendered as HTML.

Want a bullet? Use an asterisk.

* First point.
* Second point.
* Third point.

becomes

  • First point.
  • Second point.
  • Third point.

Let’s get fancy and add a link. Just type a link to [my website](https://andrewcanion.com) which renders as a link to my website. See, all you did was add brackets and braces. Everything is readable, there’s no fancy technology. It’s all plain text.

The image below is a screenshot of me writing this article in iA Writer. I edit in the left frame, and get a live preview of the rendered article on the right side.

iA Writer in UseiA Writer in Use

Google Markdown

This is not esoteric stuff. This is base-level knowledge for the modern worker. Google markdown’ and you’ll see what I mean.

This is your chance to level-up - it’s not hard; it’s your chance to move with the times.

I Love it, Tell me More!

There’s more to the Markdown syntax than what I’ve shown here. This is a nice cheatsheet showing the broader range of syntax available.

April 13, 2020 at 9:36am

Will Coronavirus Change Society Forever?

Will our giant monuments to mass transportation soon appear as white elephants dedicated to the god of hubris? Gigantic airports, ocean ports for cruise liners, and all the planes, trains, ships and automobiles that use them - will they all become stranded assets slowly losing the war against entropy?

Will our stadiums and shopping centres, designed to pack people into shared experiences, point to an irrelevant way of life?

Will our next generation of people wonder what it was like to have global experiences be the norm, and consider the way we would gather en masse to watch sport and entertainment a strange and incomprehensible way of life?

Are we moving back to a local lifestyle? Is this the beginning of the end for the global village? Was this era of multi nationalism and free global movement a blip in the history of mankind, rather than part of the continual upward trajectory we had assumed it to be?

Are we about to enter a modern version of a dark age?

thinking covid society
March 21, 2020 at 8:09pm

================================================================== https://keybase.io/andrewcanion ——————————————————————–

I hereby claim:

To do so, I am signing this object:

{ body”: { key”: { eldest_kid”: 0120b501f536c293b88c96bd6fbf913582e36fa28df4d29fa65baf814683b3403ab70a”, host”: keybase.io”, kid”: 01201bdabfcc7e6b6939dd453102c5fa42ca72cbcc5ccec36483d181264e27c1b8d40a”, uid”: c3c34ad5b9a07e5bc201ed121e1c4919”, username”: andrewcanion” }, merkle_root”: { ctime”: 1584792271, hash”: d9ecce80b43325e0b7e71a9edb75b1403c8497fc88c3702c89f8377d6a50d5f9684cc1a9bf47bd3bd1e7c3c6d0771c9ad3941e225a776fdb941bf16247c813d9”, hash_meta”: b61a7c953cc569e8d326c302b6fc67f021c81ae66f16bbb262d047d8acb8d850”, seqno”: 15529714 }, service”: { entropy”: n0Wt3+o+2a7OCxcfEsJtG/7f”, hostname”: canion.me”, protocol”: https:” }, type”: web_service_binding”, version”: 2 }, client”: { name”: keybase.io go client”, version”: 5.3.0” }, ctime”: 1584792281, expire_in”: 504576000, prev”: ee730ba885b7b5b59bb75edb4406ca24b8e035473b9a0678f08522668c70d390”, seqno”: 35, tag”: signature” }

which yields the signature:

hKRib2R5hqhkZXRhY2hlZMOpaGFzaF90eXBlCqNrZXnEIwEgG9q/zH5raTndRTECxfpCynLLzFzOw2SD0YEmTifBuNQKp3BheWxvYWTESpcCI8Qg7nMLqIW3tbWbt17bRAbKJLjgNUc7mgZ48IUiZoxw05DEIM2lbpnlfvMey2+oh4LHZ+GvTtaKjcPgFIkCXQ8dHXBrAgHCo3NpZ8RAo/dPRPCgRJGcLPM51iH+Oq28MoXDLD1FF6hPNRUmgtSUmuGHAwJWMyHSOMHKXCGrZlwPKk1/lHiLSCa1aJuwB6hzaWdfdHlwZSCkaGFzaIKkdHlwZQildmFsdWXEIHFYH9cQ6q5VP7fWS6LoPArK5XvSvoOZW4tXKm6dhP/1o3RhZ80CAqd2ZXJzaW9uAQ==

And finally, I am proving ownership of this host by posting or appending to this document.

View my publicly-auditable identity here: https://keybase.io/andrewcanion

==================================================================

February 16, 2020 at 10:33pm

HyperPlan

Have you ever used a pivot table in Excel, and thought that there must be a better way?

Have you ever built a Kanban board in Trello but realised you need a second axis?

Have you ever designed a table in OmniGraffle or PowerPoint and thought there must a more straightforward way?

I have. So I purchased a license for the Home version of HyperPlan.

My Uses to Date

I’ve owned HyperPlan for just a couple of weeks. Already I’ve found a couple of great uses for it:

  • I’ve built an insightful Kanban status board for my projects.
  • I’ve used it in a workshop I facilitated. Initially I captured ideas arising from a brainstorming session. Then we went back through each captured thought and allocated them into groups of categories simply by dragging and dropping. I was doing this by projecting the HyperPlan board onto a big screen. It created a great interactive environment.

Features

A nice feature of HyperPlan is that it can track multiple properties for each record. You can use any of these properties to act as the x and y vertices of the pivot table constructed, but the chosen property can be changed at any time with the click of a mouse.

What’s more, any of the other properties can be displayed on the record card itself, or used to build a colour-coding system.

Data can be displayed in three main ways: as a graphical pivot table, as a graph of data, or in tabular form. The pivot table is home base. New data can be added to any element at any time.

The following two images provide an insight into how HyperPlan can build up some detailed insights:

HyperPlan Kanban Board (text on cards has been redacted)HyperPlan Kanban Board (text on cards has been redacted)

HyperPlan Chart counting categoriesHyperPlan Chart counting categories

Joyful Software

I remain a fan of locally-installed software, over web applications that run in a browser. That probably positions me firmly in the old man’ camp. I don’t care. I like leveraging the power of multicore processors running at multiple Gigahertz. I like the app being in its own container - not a browser. So I commend HyperPlan for being a local app.

Unfortunately, for this Mac user, it’s not quite a native app. There are some giveaways in the user interface and user experience that betray its development with a cross-platform environment. It’s still better than Electron apps, though. These criticisms are little quibbles, like the text alignment of labels not quite matching with the interface controls, and some non-native iconography.

I’ve reached out to the developer, Andy Brice, about these, and he has been extremely responsive. Buying this software also supports a nice person like this. That’s nicer than paying money to a corporate behemoth, or underwriting a valuation for some venture capitalist.

My Recommendation

Ultimately, HyperPlan is fun to use. It’s joyful to see cards whizz around the screen as the pivot parameters are changed. It provides a great visual insight into the dataset in use. I love it. I recommend it.

software review
January 2, 2020 at 8:43pm

Agenda & NotePlan

Agenda and NotePlan: two apps that ostensibly do the same thing. They provide a method by which to take notes with regard to meetings, projects and daily happenings.

Design decisions

Both apps have been carefully designed but have ended up operating quite differently to one another. Agenda feels practically overwrought. It feels slow in operation, fiddly with a range of sliding panes, non-standard drop-down menus and a hybrid rich-text/markdown environment. Everything that is put into the app is tied up into its proprietary datastore.

In use, I often feel as thought I’m fighting against Agenda’s design. Yet it has the killer feature of being able to link together meetings in a continuous timeline.

Additionally, it allows me to attach files, take photos and create a rich tapestry of notes in relation to a project. The only problem is that because the note-taking itself is so obtuse, many of my notes say something like refer to notes taken in OmniOutliner”. Not great.

NotePlan feels lightweight. It feels like I’m writing in a straight-forward text field that supports markdown. In essence, behind the scenes this is what is happening. NotePlan creates a .md text file for each day that a note is created and stores it in the file system. It supports tagging which is how project notes can be tied together with the support of a search filter.

My usage

I used NotePlan consistently for about 6 months, but realised that I wasn’t getting any benefit from the history of notes I had taken. Things were getting lost, rendering the whole use of the app almost pointless.

So I purchased Agenda and moved in. This does a better job of enabling the review of notes, but the friction associated with getting data in is the roadblock.

Both apps offer feature parity across macOS, iOS and iPadOS.

How to buy

NotePlan is available via Setapp or as a standalone purchase. Agenda has a fair freemium/pseudo-subscription model whereby you keep forever the features the app has at that moment, plus anything added in the coming 12 months. If you want features beyond that, you pay once again.

The upshot

It’s hard to say which is better. They are both great, and both infuriating. I’m currently in the Agenda camp, but only just. I continue to look over the parapets to see how the other is performing. I own both, so the barrier to entry is low. Switching costs associated with data migration is the major factor, and that is not much.

I cannot provide a recommendation to others, but I am interested in alternative views.

software review
January 1, 2020 at 10:37pm

My App Toolkit

At the beginning of 2020, an update on my current app toolbox. Of course, it is overflowing with too many tools. My ideal state would be to have one centralised repository for everything. Yet each app offers a different set of features and benefits, and scratch particular itches. So I think the unified data store remains off in the distance.

Purpose iOS Primary iOS Secondary macOS Primary macOS Secondary Best Cross Platform
Blot via Git Drafts 1Writer iA Writer Drafts iA Writer
Micro.blog Drafts iA Writer MarsEdit Drafts Drafts
Report Writing Ulyssess Word Ulysses Word Ulysses
Meeting Notes Goodnotes OmniOutliner Curio Agenda OmniOutliner
Daily Notes Agenda Goodnotes Agenda Agenda
Zettelkasten 1Writer iA Writer The Archive DEVONthink iA Writer
Tasks OmniFocus Goodnotes OmniFocus Curio OmniFocus
Brainstorming iThoughts OmniOutliner iThoughts Curio iThoughts

Other alternatives available include:

  • Notebooks
  • DNote
  • Apple Notes
  • Day One (long-term committed use as a personal journal)
software