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Tag: writing

iCloud Online

It’s been a while since I’ve sold my Mac and have been relying on Windows and Linux – almost a year has gone by since I got rid of the MacBook Pro. I’ve not really missed it since it’s been gone. In general, I’ve been well served by my Windows gaming rig and my Lenovo X220 laptop running Xubuntu.

In fact, I’ve tended to prefer open source software and my Xubuntu laptop. I’ve taken to using LibreOffice more than Microsoft Word and I’ve taken to using other open source apps, like GNUCash, Zim, KeepassX (and Keepass) and Clementine. I’ve not really had any issues using these over the commercial apps that I used to use.

I did have some issues previously – for example, getting Zim working on the Mac was a right pain and in the end it was part of the reason that drove me away (I was using Zim for some revision and I replaced Day One with as my journaling software 1 when Day One went to a proprietary sync solution which meant it was harder to backup and wasn’t supported on Android). However, in general, it’s been rare for me to think “Boy, I wish I still had my Mac“.

iCloud

Perhaps that is, until today. I tried to use LibreOffice and then Excel to try and setup a tracker (well, a table) so I could track my required Continuing Professional Development hours. My profession requires me to undertake 25 hours a year training and the easiest method of this seems to be the creation of a table and adding new items to it as and when needed.

However, I was put off by the results of both Excel and LibreOffice. Whilst I wasn’t expecting much from LibreOffice (it works, but nothing it produces could be considered other than functional really – it isn’t one for prettiness, at least not without some work), I was at least expecting Excel to produce something reasonable but it seems like I was mistaken.

Functional, but not pretty

It was at this point that I realised that Numbers would give me a decent enough table – but with no access to a Mac, I thought I’d be relegated to using my iPad and having tried to use Excel and Google Sheets on my iPad, this didn’t fill me with joy. Thankfully, iCloud is online as well, so I can make the document I need online via the iCloud website.

There was some initially some issues – iCloud doesn’t like Linux and complains that it isn’t supported (but seems to work fine). Windows has no such issues – at least not if you use a supported broswer. Currently using Vivaldi, and whilst it’s not on the supported list, as it uses Chrome as the base, it doesn’t generate a not supported message.

2017-03-03 17_17_52-CPD Record

Using Numbers online hasn’t proven to be to much different to using Numbers on the Mac. Yes, it’s not quite as nice as using the Mac version, but it gets the job done and I don’t have to use it on the iPad. I believe the version on iCloud is slightly cut back when compared to that of the Mac version, but for the simple table that I’ve needed to create, it hasn’t been an issue.

iWork

In fact, using the Numbers online again has brought back reminders as to how good the iWork suite actually is. Whilst Pages has a number of limitations when compared to Microsoft Word that’s meant that I didn’t use it much (a lack of referencing support made it difficult for using it for for academic reports), Numbers and certainly Keynote give Microsoft a run for their money. In fact, I prefer Keynote for presentation creation – Powerpoint feels quite far behind in comparison. However, Numbers isn’t going to give Excel nightmares when it comes to serious number crunching, but for general day to day use without macros, it performs well and I’ve not really had any issues.

There are a number of apps that I do miss from the Mac days – 1Password on Windows is a poor shadow of its Mac counterpart which is a shame, whilst Windows and Linux are also missing any serious markdown editors – Ulyssess is a fantastic app and something similar doesn’t seem to exist on the other operating systems unless you use something like Simplenote online. I tend to run all my blog posts through Ulyssess on my iPad before posting as it can tidy up any code that I write in Atom on the desktops.

A side effect of using Numbers today is that I’ve found myself defaulting back to the Mac keyboard shortcuts! Yet, I’ve found that I’ve moved a personal finance spreadsheet back into iCloud because the method of using tables in Numbers suits the creation of lots of little tables, rather than the enforced grid layout of Excel/LibreOffice.

It may come to pass that I’ll start using it more often over the coming months for various other items as well. I can’t pretend that the auto sync doesn’t come in handy as well, though without a Mac, backing up the files is restricted to manual downloads of a file, which perhaps isn’t ideal.


  1. You can read about setting it up here where I set up my iPad to create Zim compatible text files in Dropbox. 

Markdown – Syntax Missing

So coming to edit some Markdown notes on my iPad today and I come across one flaw. Don’t get me wrong, I love Markdown and my Markdown app of choice (Writing Kit) is fantastic, with Dropbox auto sync (every 10 key strokes) and built in web browser, it’s still missing something.

That something happens to be syntax highlighting. I didn’t realise how much I miss it until hitting it up on the iPad and missing the feeling I get when I see the different colour code such as when I open documents in Multimarkdown Editor on the mac. I just get presented with a wall of text and that’s no great.

The syntax highlighting breaks up my work and makes it easier to read – why isn’t there an iOS markdown editor with syntax highlighting? Textastic says it does markdown highlighting but I can’t seem to get it working. It’ll even import Textmate syntaxes, but again, no luck there.

Any ideas?

Scrivener – Writers Software

So I’ve been trying some new writing tools for the thesis. Possibly a bit late in the game now but I’m still writing other things for various reasons, for example the UKAPUOffSite Link newsletter editor and I’ve written a few magazine articles for the UK weekly computer magazine Micro Mart OffSite Link and not to mention I’m still writing academic papers.

So when I learnt of Scrivener OffSite Link, I thought I best give it a go. This app promised to be a great tool for those serious about writing so I thought I’d jump in. I won’t cover it in detail, others have mentioned it in other reviews online, I’ll just cover why it’s no good to me.

Impressions

Well I thought it looked good. Until I started playing with it and then quickly realised that it’s severely limited in terms of academic writing.

To write in LaTeX you need to either write it in LaTeX in the editor (and it’s not a great editor for doing that with I can assure you) and export the whole think as a text document or use Multi Markdown and then get that converted to LaTeX. Neither of which are done nicely in Scrivener (it lacks syntax highlighting, code completion etc).

it’s final nail is a lack of referencing software – referencing previous work is a cornerstone of academic research so this oversight is horrendous. It can be got around if you want to export your document to RTF format and use something like Zotero OffSite Link to reference your work (Zotero allows you to insert a reference citation field and then you can scan the compiled RTF document to add the references in).

Lastly, a lack of working Table of Contents system and ability to set headers/footers etc mean that for me, it’s a nice piece of software that goes wide of the mark. Perhaps for novelists it’ll be fine but for academic research, a few glaring omissions make it impractical.

LaTeX to RTF

So for a while, I’ve been using LaTeX to write up my work but every now and then someone wants a copy of my work in Word so they can edit it or mark it up and they cant use a PDF editor. This means converting my PDF into a Word document or my LaTeX file into a RTF document.

The PDF route was probably the easiest as everything was nicely laid out already and set out as it should be and various services on the web manage to convert PDF’s relatively well to Word documents such as Zamzar Offsite Link

However, the LaTeX to RTF option is also a possibility using the linux2rtf program Offsite Link however, that seems to be awkward at the best of times and annoyingly problematic at times. And it won’t run on OS X Lion because of the lack of Rosetta support (unless you build it in Macports but that requires a full LaTeX install via Macports as well!)

it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the answer was staring me in the face all this time. I’d blogged about Pandoc before here and it’s ability to turn Markdown into LaTeX code. Well, it does that and more. Turns out it can output to RTF as well (that’ll teach me to RTFM!) so a simple command of:

pandoc -s LaTeX.tex -o Output.rtf

gives me a very well formatted RTF document that matches the LaTeX document style pretty well.

For example, in the document in question, I was making use of the url package and the verbatim package quite regularly – Pandoc understands these and formatted them as described in the RTF! Excellent! I don’t know how well it would come with Tables, References and floats but that’s to try another day but considering it handled verbatim and url fine, I have high hopes. latex2rtf is dead, long live LaTeX to RTF!

So once again, top marks to Pandoc for it’s fantastic ability to read and convert documents!

Markdown, Pandoc, Mou and LaTeX

For those that haven’t guessed already, Markdown is my new thing. It’s a fantastic little language that allows you to quickly write HTML and XHTML without knowing HTML!

Writing with it is quite natural (for those fans of Reddit, it’s the code method used to write replys) as it’s fairly simple.

# Item

gives a headline.

**item**

gives bold text etc etc.

After using it for a bit in Reddit, I found Mou Offsite Link, a Markdown editor for Mac that lets you type on one side of the window whilst in realtime, updating the HTML preview on the right. Simple, easy and elegant. I started using this for writing in Evernote Offsite Link. Write a note in Mou, which is simple, easy and quick (without worrying to much about the formatting) then copy and paste the right side into Evernote for an awesome looking note (at least it is until it syncs to the server – workaround is to export the HTML to a normal HTML, open in a browser and copy into Evernote from there – not so pretty and a bit long winded – have asked Evernote why it’s a problem)

In terms of quickly formatting a block of text, Markdown is pretty damn good. So much so, it got me thinking. Could it be used for academic writing? Turns out with another program, it can! Using pandoc Offsite Link, you can easily convert Markdown into LaTeX. The output is actually pretty impressive! Better than I have expected from cnversion software anyhow!

For example, we can take the help file from Mou as an example. It’s Markdown for a section is this Offsite Link. This corresponds to this in an HTML (what you see in a browser) which is this Offsite Link. Not to shabby. Load up pandoc and use the command

pandoc -s file.html -o file.tex

to convert the HTML file into a LaTeX file and you get the following LaTeX code Offsite Link. The -s flag means standalone and thus it adds the required preamble to the LaTeX document. This is then converted into PDF in the LaTeX editor (and with a few flaws, thanks to the .ico file type used by Mou in the help file which is unrecognised by LaTeX) you get this Offsite Link as the output.

As you can see, it’s a pretty good representation in LaTeX to the HTML file.

Conclusion

I use LaTeX to write my reports in – most, if not all get formatted and written in LaTeX using the new, but excellent, Texpad Offsite Link. This app is fantastic but remembering LaTeX commands can be a pain and it’s also slow at times when all you need to do is write down a draft. Once you start adding references etc, LaTeX starts to shine.

However, for the drafting process, using Markdown and Pandoc can speed up the crucial part of putting words on sheets and pandoc means that converting from Markdown to LaTeX will require as little possible time for the end user. Which can only be a good thing at the end of the day!