548: Jumping Into Markdown

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I remember the first MPU Markdown episode fondly. David got a lot wrong, but his enthusiasm for the format was undeniable.

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Good tip on using code blocks for annotation. I’m looking forward to giving that a try.

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This episode has me looking back into Markdown and where it fits in my workflows. I did a deep dive about 5 years ago but it never really stuck. A lot has changed since then, so it’s worth taking another look.Thanks!

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Okay, I know I’m going to sound like an idiot here, but I just finished listening to that episode, downloaded Byword, and typed up some sample text using Markdown. What I got was a lot of asterisks, underscores, backwards quotes, etc., but I’m not seeing the FORMATTED text (like the bold, italics, code blocks, etc.). What am I supposed to do with this stuff?? How would I convert a text file with a bunch of Markdown tags into a formatted email message, for example? Or a formatted document suitable for printing? I guess I’m just not seeing the point of all of this? Isn’t it easier just to use the bold and italics options on the toolbars of most apps (including the Mail app)? How do I know people won’t just see my asterisks and underscores when they read the mail on their end? Sorry, but I need a little help here.

I completely understand the syntax. That part is easy. It’s the conversion from a Markdown coded text file into something formatted to be readable by people who don’t understand Markdown…that’s the part I don’t get. I even tried opening my Markdown file in Chrome and Safari, thinking the Markdown syntax would automatically be converted to HTML and then presented like a formatted webpage. WRONG. It just opens up with all of the Markdown tags in place. Seriously?? This is useful for people?

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Perhaps it is related to the fact that in Byword you can open a file as RICH TEXT or MARKDOWN.

If you open it in MARKDOWN you will see the text being formatted in response to the placement of the astericks.

200809_2234MarkDown

If you open it is RTF (Rich Text) no formatting is evident.

Now if you take the file you have created with asterisks, there is an option Export it. You are given a number of options. One that you can play with is RTF. So export what you have written as a RTF document. Open it with a program that knows how to read RTF and you will see your formatted text with no asterisks but only the formatting that has been specified.

For the More Power Users folks: it you are wanting to use Stream Deck with Keyboard Maestro, you’ll want to get the official plugin but also the unofficial one:

KMLink works great for macros you just want to trigger. KMLink buttons can be moved more easily than macros used with the official plugin.

No need to choose one or the other, use them both for what they are each good at!

A couple of other important tools that natively support markdown:

DEVONthink - I use DT for many things, but when I take notes in a meeting I do it in Markdown. (For long form composing I use BBEDIT. )

MailMate - when I need to compose an email with some formatting, MM supports dual window markdown composition — makes it really easy.

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I really enjoyed this episode.

One minor correction, though, about iA Writer — it stores the files you make as .txt files in iCloud and not in some kind of proprietary library like Ulysses. It’s one of the main reasons I moved to iA Writer (well that and it being a one-time purchase and not subscription service).

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You’d need to put Byword in “Preview” mode.

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I enjoyed this episode and picked up a couple of handy tips, despite being a reasonably proficient Markdown user.

One thing that has always struck me about Markdown is that while there is a wealth of great editors as mentioned on the show, there seems to be a lack of easy to use tools for styling the output exactly the way you want (especially if you want printed output).

Most of the editors have a handful pre-built output styles, which are ok, but if you want to go beyond these then you quickly end up in the intricacies of CSS. This is a bit of a shame when you consider that one of the main aims of Markdown was to avoid the need to code in HTML.

It would be useful to know how people cope with this challenge and this might be a good topic for a follow up show. For example I know that Federico Viticci has said he has a custom iA Writer template to format its markdown output to look like his website. It would be interesting to know how this was created (last time I looked iA Writer templates were not for the faint hearted).

Also if anyone does have any good tips for user friendly tools in this space then it would be great to hear them.

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I’m not a big Markdown user myself, but take a look at Brett Terpstra’s Marked 2 utility. He offers a free trial and I think it part of Setapp.

Code blocks might be a decent hack for use in a normal Markdown writing app, but I thought it was odd that David hacks code blocks for annotations while using Ulysses, because Ulysses offers

  1. Annotations blocks
  2. Comments, and
  3. Comment Blocks

Comments/comment blocks are (typically for Ulysses) extremely customizable in their formatting, but their main advantage over code blocks is that they are normally excluded from printing, pdfs and export (unless you optionally export as ‘Rough Cut’). I make a lot of notes to myself in my writing and find this invaluable.

(I don’t use Ulysses’s annotation feature, as it hides annotations inside a pop-up which I find useless.)

Related to this, for several years writer Matt Gemmell has done all his writing in Ulysses and he has an interesting annotation-related technique I appropriated: For each document he creates a top level live-filter in the Library pane that matches documents which satisfy any of the following criteria:

  • Has the todo keyword in the document’s metadata.
  • Contains the text “XXX” (used as a fill-me-in-later placeholder for things needing additional work)
  • Contains any kind of annotation or comment within the text.

For him this makes the editing process much easier, since he can see what’s still to be done, all in one place.

For decades I’d used the easily searchable ‘XXXX’ in my text mark spots that needed my attention but Gemmell’s supercharged filter puts all comments and needed editing in one place.

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Thanks for bringing this up. I just searched and found some of Matt’s other posts you linked on another thread. I am excited to read those soon.

Here is the post containing the links that @bowline is referring to above: Transitioning from Scrivener to Ulysses

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Marked was discussed quite a bit in the episode. It’s a great utility, I own it, but I rarely use it with Markdown because it’s really designed to enhance preview output for apps that have limited or poor preview/output. I just decided it was worth finalizing on an app which didn’t need that assistance (or take up double the screen real estate for live preview).

Marked is more interesting to me for use with mindmapping utilities like MindNode and iThoughtsX, in that you can link a mindmap to Marked, see it in outline form, and see edits live (then saved out in outline form).

I agree with @MotownDoc, although using Markdown seems interesting, it just seems like extra work for a user like me who is doing emails, document creation, etc. Keyboard shortcuts seem quicker. There isn’t exporting and no preview needed. What am I missing about using Markdown? Maybe it’s not about productivity, but rather about the enjoyment of writing in this language?

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I agree that there is some enjoyment involved. But, it is also nice to know that my writing is saved as plain text files that are light weight and will not be held hostage by any proprietary software. I write blog posts in Markdown. Writing blog posts in markdown makes process much easier as I can just export the post to my platform and save the content as a plain text file. But, just like everything, using Markdown should be driven by its ability to help your workflow. If it doesn’t help. Do not use it. :slight_smile:

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As the podcast discussed, when you’re working with text files you’re future-proofed and don’t have to worry about accessing defunct, changed or deprecated file formats in the future, you don’t have to worry about losing or screwing up formatting when copy/pasting into other documents, it reduces dependency on a single piece of software to read or write with, it’s easy to share, and it lets you convert easily (or more easily) to different types of sources (blogs, ebooks, email, PDF, html).

And it’s already used everywhere - when you’re using this site you’re using a Markdown editor

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I always think of the [ and ] as the visual of a button and the ( ) as the note about what the button is (the link)

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