Ted Goranson - Personal Blog

The blog of Ted Goranson. This is both a personal blog and an ongoing update on his projects.

Writing Tools Redux

Published: 26 Nov 2012
Revised: 12 Mar 2015

Edited on 5 Feb 2015: to update active tools list.

My writing environment has changed since first writing this note.

I now have an older 13” MacBook Pro (the mid 2010 model) that is dedicated to text. On this machine are my writing tools plus two note tools. I expect I will stick with this for some time and when I update it will be to a similar machine with retina screen.

Scrivener

For several long projects that I expect will take very long to write, I am using Scrivener. These have huge numbers of source documents that I keep on a File Transporter. I own the top drawer Devonthink but haven’t learned to like it, so all these thousands of source docs are simply in the file system. As I go through them, and some Instapaper pages, I just enter the insight in Scrivener and either toss the document or save it in Bookends.

Tinderbox

I assume that the finished documents can be exported the way I want, many of them to Tinderbox. I’m investing in Scrivener more or less because people I trust effuse over it and there seems to be a well considered Tinderbox import. I continue to do much work in Tinderbox, as noted elsewhere. The conversion to v6 was rocky, as expected.

Nisus Writer Pro

I’ve switched from Mellel to Nisus Writer, a bit of a surprise. The immediate reason is that I am writing a complex document for redframer that will be shared as a PDF. Nisus has excellent support for links that convey to the PDF. I am using Linkback with OmniGraffle and that is very helpful. I also expect over time to re-engage with their scripting environment. The UI is a little dated, especially compared to some of the others here, but not distractingly.

Ulysses

The biggest switch is from BBedit to Ulysses. I now use this for everything that doesn’t require the others. I’m not a big markdown fan, but my styling needs are scant. The main thing I love is the ability to keep it open on all my Macs and write wherever I am. The heads up display is much more useful than I expected and I will likely try to modify Scrivener to match.

Filemaker Pro Advanced

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I have a very large project in Filemaker, my FilmsFolded reboot. I’ve created a very tailored capability in that program for editing content and making new entries on the 4,000 reviews I’ve done. The actual editing environment is scanty compared to the others, but the workflow is a dream.

MarsEdit

Another project makes heavy use of WordPress. I’ve had MarsEdit for years and continue to use it, though I was tempted to explore Desk and Bloggo. But MarsEdit has never let me down, and for this project I use no images — the advertised strength of those.

Evernote, Simplenote & Instapaper

As mentioned elsewhere, I have premium accounts with all these, but at present haven’t become serious with them.

Drafts

The iPad is used infrequently for production work, but when I write it is either in Filemaker Go or Drafts. Editorial would be my home, I suppose, if I used the iPad seriously but Drafts hits a sweet spot. Ulysses is supposed to have an iPad app soon, and I am sure that will be used heavily.

In all of these, I use Helvetica Neue where I can. If I get big money, everything will switch to retina and Mr Eaves.

Here are some observations about alternatives I have considered.

MultiAd Creator

You may have not heard of this; the application was developed more than a decade ago for the ad departments of newspapers, and I believe it still dominates that market. I became aware of it long ago as it was the first application to fully embrace some exciting Mac technologies like AppleScript/Frontier, GX and Publish/Subscribe. At the time, it bested Adobe products on the features that I cared about — including a fluid UI — and I used it for some time for text experiments and risky presentations.

They perhaps made wise marketing decisions concerning market focus and moving to Windows, but now have a version of their latest on the MacApp store. I downloaded both the generous trial of this and its big brother. You may want to do the same. A great many of its advanced features are wasted on me as all I want is a strong layout tool.

Creator is frame-based, and that is the paradigm I fell in love with early in my career. I would dearly love a good frame-based application. Pages is targeted at too dumb an audience. FrameMaker would require all sorts of folderol to use and just has not matured well. The attraction of FrameMaker is the amazing control over export but the time, money and ugliness costs are just too great. Calligra Words shows enough promise to merit a VMware Linux image on my machine with Kubuntu. Possibly the scripting/customizing paradigm will be better than currently available on the Mac.

In addition to robust frame support, the color and gradient management of Creator is simply wonderful, as is the text-on-a-curve feature. But the application fails for me in a few ways. It targets ads and brochures so has no long document support, including the inability to manipulate large files. My main complaint with Mellel is how it handles images, and Creator does well in that regard. But it still has that OS9 interface! And unless you get the big brother version, you don’t get hyphenation.

I so rarely have to create print-centric documents that I won’t worry about new DTP investments at this time. My default will still be Mellel but next time I will put images at the end or in a separate document; yes, it is that bad. But Mellel has enough other joys to have me stick with it.

OmniGraffle

The technical paper required a large number of drawings and my anchor tool for years has been OmniGraffle Pro. I just love this application and the decisions the designers made. The frustrating thing is that it is almost good enough to be my anchor for all created graphics. In a later post where I talk about the scientific paper, I’ll show some of the illustrations we were able to create, including convincing application mockups. My current workflow is to jump from Graffle into Pixelmator (or Fumy) for raster-centric layer work. But when you come back to Graffle in that loop, layers and vectors are lost. Shucks.

(I’ve purchased the iPad version of Graffle. Though the forthcoming iPad is slated for consumption only.)

Acorn

I tried to like Acorn. It has superior layer handling and some vector tools. Perhaps if I encountered it earlier I could more easily navigate the UI, which to me seems too compromised toward simplicity. Acorn does have some vector tools, but they are not very useful for my needs. (As an aside, I’ve found Photosketcher to be better for creating traceable edges than Sketcher.)

Sketch

Vector drawing applications are flourishing on iOS, but on the Mac, the competition has withered to Sketch and Opacity. Both have strong champions in the user community, but for my current needs none was better than the built-in Graffle tools. In particular, Sketch can export the CSS of a layer which is very cool. And the drawing tools are elegant. But it had some bugs that made me set it aside. I can see moving to it some time in the future for my main composition application. But the bugs...

Opacity's key attraction is the formats which it can export, including Cocoa native UI elements. But the art tools are poor.

Tinderbox will continue to be my anchor for most of the work you will see here. But I just find the editor too much of a barrier to work in all day. Typographer’s quotes are not automatic. You can’t use PopChar. QuickCursor isn’t quite right. Moom is broken. OptionDrag works strangely. The spellchecking options seem substandard. If you leave a note and come back your position is lost... The solution in the short term is to write elsewhere and add my numerous elaborations after a paste. The forthcoming TBx v6 will fix all this. Meanwhile I checked out...

FoldingText

I have a special place in my heart for certain small developers and Hog Bay Software is one of these. I’ve appreciated their tools for years. The latest is a strange offering that hits an odd sweet spot, being something of a synthesis and update of their TaskPaper and Writeroom apps.

Compelling; it is at root an ordinary text editor. Some Markdown-like characters are used, but instead of styling, they introduce control characters. The most significant is collapsable headers, but some other rather handy inline controls exist as well, including filter tags (in the future). The thing is architected to be styled by CSS (with future themes) and scriptable in an unusual but intelligent way via XML nodes.

In the long run, the app and I may grow together, but not just now. I have some rather heavy requirements in my custom markup language and the app fights that at present. Meanwhile, I’ll be taking Scrivener for a test run and trying out the LaTeX export and some custom exports. And I’ll be keeping an eye on Ulysses III. I like the way these guys think and may settle on Daedalus for my iPad editor..

Mr Eaves

I'll end up with all retina screens in a few months, and am rethinking my typography strategy. In another note, I'll describe how we hacked and animated the subpixel rendering of tweaked fonts. All of that is moot now that resolutions are so fine and Mac rendering algorithms are so good. I am in a temporary mode at the moment so far as fonts: I write and publish using Helvetica Neue, which I hope is the font you are seeing now. It doesn't suck and I can carry the same design through the web that I write in. But I think I will be transitioning to Mr Eaves XL Narrow (online) in a year, starting with the setup of new apps.

It strikes me as having more character. If I have to go German in a Gothic, it may as well be on the Pina Bausch side of German design. And of the sans serifs that have energy, it has more faces and seems more fluid in long form.

Sailfish

I love my iPhone 4S. I like having email and a good camera in my pocket, plus enough computing power to do somewhat amazing things. I fully buy into the Apple ecosystem and their values. Have for decades in several roles.

But I’ll start creating touch applications soon, and the limits of Cocoa may be too much for me. My current tools are the 17 inch MacBookPro, the Pismo (which did not make it on the Australia trip) and the iPhone. I may be transitioning to a situation where I have an ordinary (meaning non-Apple) phone, a smaller MacBook, and an iPad or iPod Touch. By ordinary, I mean a phone that I only count on for calls, email and maps with all else being handled elsewhere. Possibly, I’ll use the new phone to feed an Apple product via personal wifi.

Looking at alternatives to iOS, I just cannot buy into the Google contract. You would not as well if you knew...

The windows options are poor. I’m most impressed with the just-announced Sailfish, which is swipe-based — not a blatant copy of Apple's tap-based paradigm. It is Linux-rooted (in the truly open Mer) and open as opposed to the Google mess. I may buy one of their phones and at the same time ditch AT&T. The swipiness is fairly well thought out as is the notion of accessing more than one application at a time. We’ll see.

© copyright Ted Goranson, 2012