Windows Writing Environments

You know what I write in most days? Windows.

I like MarkdownPad because it’s simple. It lets me type away and see any styling in real-time. It shows the styles as I type.

It can do so much more than I need it to, but I ignore the extras and use it as a place for words. It’s free to use and $15 to upgrade and get a host of added, useful features like auto-saving and session-management.

It’s never crashed on me. knock wood. It’s a solid little app that does what I need it to do. I save files to .txt or .md and put them in Google Drive. I appreciate the app’s simplicity. It also pairs nicely with another app I love to write in.

Writemonkey is big, black canvas where I can put my words. There’s something about the black page and green text that reminds me of the old days of computing. It has a ton of options and plugins. But I use it as you see it. A big black page with lovely green text.

It feels comfortable to me. I am not saying this is the way all writing should be done. I am saying this works for me.

Find what works best for you and do it. I have found a color scheme and font that please me. It’s not a requirement for me to write. I don’t have to be seated just so with the proper writing tool in the perfect environment.

I just need time and head space to compose words. And these are the tools I’m using these days. On the Mac and iPhone, I have Byword set to the dark mode but I don’t remember the last time I used either.

Bookmarklets I Know And Love

I don’t use my bookmarks bar in Chrome for anything related to Bookmarks. I use it almost exclusively for bookmarklets. What is a bookmarklet? It’s a bit of JavaScript that does a specific function. Instead of linking to a URL, it performs a small command. You’ll see if you keep reading.

I have a shortcut that adds a video from YouTube or Vimeo to my Plex queue. It’s my watch-it-later system for video when I want to watch a conference talk or interesting video later and know I’ll forget otherwise. If you have video hosted on a computer at home, I highly recommend you let Plex organize and share it. To get this bookmarklet go to the Watch Later Help page. Drag the Plex It! link to your bookmarks bar.

In the course of running events, presenters will often send me link to YouTube videos they would like to play during their presentation. the idea of running a video from the web, with the possibility of advertising gives me nightmares.

I use KeepVid to rip the YouTube video to my computer and run the video from there. It allows me to show the video to the audience without running the risk of advertisements, network difficulties, related videos, comments of other undesirable things.

– Markdown Quote
After moaning on Twitter about the shortcut I had found, I longed for a better solution.

Rob Malanowski came to my rescue. Rob, who is my spirit animal, provided a wonderful bookmarklet that grabs the title of a page, puts it into a Markdown link and then grabs the highlighted text and pastes that in after a “>” which makes it a pull-quote in Markdown.

That sounds really convoluted. Here is what it does.

Markdown pull-quote bookmarklet in action

Now I have my quote and link to the page ready to write about. It’s a small thing but it’s quick and it makes me smile every time I use it.

If you want to use this bookmarklet, grab the link below and drag it to your bookmark bar.


Instapaper changed how and where I read. As a commuter that spends most of my hour commuting underground, I can’t read anything online. So I dig into my reading queue. To find the bookmarklet, go to Instapaper’s Save page and drag the Save to Instapaper link to the bookmarks bar.

If you’re curious what I’ve read and liked, I keep a list at Carl Likes which also posts to Twitter at @CarlLikes

– Fever feedlet
This is my shortcut to add a site to my local installation of Fever where I read all of my RSS feeds.

I used to have bookmarklets for Pinboard and HuffDuffer but I now use Chrome extensions for those. I often change the bookmarklets I have in my bookmarks bar. I’ve downloaded and used most of what Brett Terpstra writes because they’re useful and fun.

I hope you found something useful in this smattering of links. Do you use something that makes your life a little bit easier? Tell me about it on Twitter.

Mark Down will make you a great deal on formatted text

New Rule For the Internet: Let’s not get overly worked up over things that won’t matter in 24 hours.

It’s a rule I’m trying to live by more. It is very easy to get pulled into the Internet Outrage Machine™. Everyday there is something absurd to get all worked up over. Then, the next day, it won’t matter to anyone. This is also why I do not cover tech news on this site. There is no point in speculating over upcoming hardware. We’ll see what it is when it’s released. I stay out of petty internet drama.

The latest drama took over Twitter yesterday. And within the course of the day, the cause of the drama was resolved. It would have been much quieter if the two people involved would have worked things out privately. But that’s not how the internet works.

I tease my wife for watching The Real Housewives of ______ or Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But this week I was reminded, nerds are no better when it comes to drama. One guy invented Markdown, a way to style plain text. He made it a decade ago and hasn’t done much with it since.

As a result, there are a number of implementations of it. Adding or changing different parts of it to suit the needs of the different groups of people.

Well, a group of well-meaning people got together and decided to create a version called Standard Markdown. This made the creator, John Gruber, unhappy and got a lot of nerds up in a tizzy. Many words were written. Sides were taken

I summed it up like this.

Joe Rosensteel has a nice piece about what this is all about.

Standard – This is like telling everyone you’re cool. “Hi everyone, I’m Cool Joe! Come hang out with me!” Congratulations on jinxing yourself? The iPhone is not called “Standard Phone”. Also, as I’ve established above, this is only standard in name only. A few guys made this in secret to scratch their own itch.
Markdown – Lots of things use “Markdown” as part of the name of their implementation of Markdown. The Python library I’m using does this. It’s usually not paired with “Standard”, “Official”, “One and Only”, or “Legal” to imply it holds some special place. This is, after-all, a fork.

As he notes, the name has already been changed from Standard to Common Markdown to comply with the creator’s wishes.

Joe makes a great point.

For someone that says he loves Markdown, Jeff doesn’t seem to understand anything about why it is popular. Or why attempts to rein in the wild sprawl are bound to fail.

See how silly all of this already has gotten? Did you follow this?

The problem is one group of people wanted to do something. They asked the creator’s opinion on it. Since they didn’t get a response, they assumed no response was an OK to move forward. The creator, John Gruber, asked for three things.

  • Rename the project.
  • Shut down the standardmarkdown.com domain, and don’t redirect it.
  • Apologize.

All three have been done. No harm, no foul. At the end of the day, adults were adult about the situation.

But I have to ask, why did this become a public spectacle? Jeff Atwood and John Gruber could have sorted things out behind closed email clients.

But it was public.

I would absolutely be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention Sid O’Neill‘s post on the topic.

A Tale of Two Markdowns

“Oh, Sir Knight,” said she, “I am come bearing sad tidings from the fair Lady Markdown. Her Lord, the evil giant Gruber, has kept her imprisoned for ten years, to great lament. She wishes her freedom, and calls for a brave knight to rescue her.”

Then did Sir Atwood take heart, for he saw that here was a quest deserving of his mettle. Turning to his companions he bade them prepare themselves for the journey. With them as they travelled they took a cart filled with Standards, pulled by two white palfreys. They would need these if they were to defeat the giant.

The troubles that Sir Atwood and his noble band suffered as they journeyed are too many to set down here, but suffice to say that at length they arrived at the castle wherein the evil Gruber made his abode.

Tech drama as medieval tale should be the new standard for tech drama reporting.

Reality TV has nothing on the drama nerds can create on Twitter about something like plain text formatting. Yes, this is the kind of thing nerds get upset about. Insane, isn’t it?

Of Desktops and Writing Environments

I can’t use a desktop anymore. Growing up and all through college I used a desktop. It’s all I had and all I used. When I wanted to compute, I sat at my computer and I computed. Sitting in a chair, at my desk, in my room.

Now, I can’t bring myself to be tethered to the desk. I have a couple of desktop computers around my apartment. They mostly sit and do repetitive tasks which need always-on and always-connected status. They download files and backup data. They keep my information safe. They sit and serve. They are not what I used everyday. They are not the device I reach for when I get home.

At work I have a desktop still, primarily because there’s no “business reason” for me to have a laptop ((If you ignore the netbook the company bought me as a test group to see whether it was worth getting for other employees. It’s not.)) and that works out.

When I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit down at another desk. I rather grab my iPad or a laptop and sit on the couch or out on the balcony, or even lounge in bed with comfy pillows. Sitting at a desk is constricting. I can’t sit next to my wife and be with her. I can’t interact with her because I’m stuck in a single place.

I prefer the mobility of laptops and the iPad. It fits my lifestyle. It fits who I am and what I want to do.

What I reach for when I arrive home all depends on what I want to do. The iPad is mainly for reading. When I want to read, 90% ((Not counting Instapaper reading time)) of the time I pop open the Kindle app and dive into the latest book I’ve borrowed from Lendle.

In that remaining 10% I turn to iBooks and read one of the PDFs or free eBooks I’ve downloaded. I will fill my water bottle and settle into a comfortable place and watch the pages fly by.

When I am in the mood to write I reach for a laptop. Even then, there is some question about what I grab. If I want to write ((as I am now)) and not be distracted or have to lug a heavy weight with me, the Google CR-48 Chromebook it is. It is super light and has great battery life. ((Currently 7 hours remaining at 92%))

I will open a new window and start making the clackity noise in either Simplenote or my new love, Pillarbox.

When I want to do more serious writing which requires research, referencing and piles of tabs and notes I reach for my main laptop, a Lenovo T61 ((I yearn for the day when I can afford a MacBook again)). It is a serviceable machine. WIndows 7 works well enough though it is no Mac OS.

I turn to Windows only when I need to get serious work done. Usually this means I will open Simplenote in half the screen and WriteMonkey on the other half. It is not the “distraction-free” nature of the writing environments that draws me to them, it is their simplicity and stark design. I like having a color palette other than black text on white background. I like the ability to see the word count and little else.

I can stay on task well enough, flipping between my Simplenote notes and Writemonkey’s clean, dark backdrop to my words. I write in Markdown so I prefer plain text to any fancy WYSIWYG editors. I am a big fan of simplicity and portability since I am a very nomadic writer and often use my iPhone to write on my commute. ((I write far more on the iPhone than I do the iPad, even with the external keyboard))