The Amazing Editor that Could – Editorial

A little over two years ago I moved to using markdown for the majority of my writing. For those who don't know, Markdown is a light-weight markup format which uses plain text for it's files – if you're interested in learning more about how to use this amazing tool, follow this link. For me, the brilliance of Markdown is two-fold:

  • The markup us easily read even if it hasn't been converted to any other format.
  • Writers can add the markup with extreme speed, using simple characters.

Markdown is usable with any plain text editor, but where it really shines is when it's paired with an editor which understands the markdown syntax and convert the markup to other formats such as HTML or PDF. I've used several such editors in my time with markdown, but for the last six months I've been using perhaps the most amazing editor I've ever had at my disposal. It's Editorial by OMZ software. Recently, OMZ released the universal iOS version of this app, and I thought it was an appropriate time to explore it's features.

Basic features

At it's core, Editorial is a plain text editor which supports both plain text and markdown files. This is a bit of a strange distinction, as a markdown file is a plain text file – the only difference between them, according to Editorial, is whether or not files are created with a .txt or .md file extension1. The file extension seems to be the trigger for the markdown preview features of the editor window. These features change the look of editor window text to match the markup without having to preview a conversion to HTML. While markdown preview is not necessary given markdown's emphasis on human-readability, it's a nice feature to have.

Editorial's keyboard has an extended row which adds keys for common markdown characters. This saves writers from having to navigate different keyboard modes when typing on the virtual keyboard.

In older versions of Editorial users had to tap on the document title to get access to a word count. Starting with version 1.1, an unobtrusive persistent word count can be enabled in the settings. As I rely heavily on my word count who I'm writing, I really appreciate this feature.

Swiping from right to left brings out a panel which accesses preview, console, help, and browser modes. These modes are basically self-explanatory – browser mode is wonderful for doing research on the web and copying text into a document without leaving the app, help mode contains web-based documentation for the app, console mode opens a scratch pad which is useful for storing multiple bits of information, and preview mode shows what the markdown syntax looks like when converted to HTML.

Swiping from right to left opens up a file browser panel with modes to list both local storage and files synced through dropbox. From the bottom of this panel new documents can be created by tapping on the document icon found in the lower left corner. Tapping on the edit button in the upper right of the panel allows documents to be moved or deleted, and new folders to be created.

As was stated above, tapping on the title of an open document reveals the current word and character counts of the file. Additionally, a dropbox icon is present which can be tapped to access different document versions and to copy the dropbox link for sharing2. To the right of this panel an edit icon allows the file to be renamed. This includes the file extension – so .txt files can be renamed with the .md extension, activating the editor preview features. Finally, the headings currently used in the document are listed in this panel – though, sadly, they are not nested according to level. Tapping on these titles causes the document to jump to that location.

Advanced features

While Editorial has an incredible amount of basic features, it separates from the competition in the advanced feature arena.

Workflows

Editorial's greatest power comes through it's incredible scripting features. The app allows the creation of “Workflows” which can automate the app to do all sorts of amazing feats. Workflows take some practice to get in the hang of how workouts are put together, but once the basics are mastered the possibilities are endless. Below are some workflows I've created so far.

“Big Idea”

This prompts the writer for basic header information and then inserts the answers, along with some pre-defined text. I use this when prepping sermons.

Custom Preview

This workflow shows the HTML conversion with a style sheet I created.

Superscript

A workflow which wraps any selected text with HTLM superscript tags. This overcomes the limitations of superscript in markdown.

Image Tag

This workflow inserts an bold “image tag” into my document, or which converts selected text into an image tag. This tag looks like this **[image: ]** . When my workflow is activated the text caret moves to the left of the right bracket, where I can type in an image description. I use these tags to create my presentations.

Move Caret

These two scripts move the text entry caret left and right one space, perfect for getting the cursor into the just the right spot.

Python Scripting

If the standard workflow features don't offer enough power, Editorial also allows users or script the app using python. This opens up a whole new level of customization in Editorial, one which has me itching to learn python so I have access to it!

It's important to understand, though, that the workflow feature is extremely powerful without knowing even a single line of Python. This is very much a power user feature, and it says something that the ordinary workflow features are not for power users only.

Shortcuts

Each workflow can be assigned a shortcut which allows it to be activated by a specific keystroke on an external keyboard. This works with markdown's philosophy of not having to remove hands from the keyboard to apply formatting. Workflows may also be added to the Bookmarks Bar. While this is a bit awkwardly named, the feature sets workflows in a toolbar at the top edge of the editor window – along with custom text and icons. This allows for single tap access to a user's most valued workflows, saving much time while writing.

Taskpaper

Quite a few people were excited about Editorial 1.1 adding support for taskpaper, a plain text task managment markup system. I have yet to play much with this aspect of the application, especially since I rely heavily on reminders to keep me on task, but I can see it's appeal. The ability to create universally readable task lists with tags is a great accomplishment. When tossed in a shared dropbox folder, taskpaper formatting could allow teams to work collaboratively on a task list and while checking the progress of the entire project. I plan on experimenting more with this in the future.

Conclusion

I typically go for “it just works” apps on iOS as heavy customization is typically a obstacle to me getting work done. Editorial, however, is a wonderful exception to this rule. The customization it offers is as transparent an implementation of scripting I have ever seen. The app is fully featured without accessing workflows, but when utilized it frees a writer to make the editor an extension of their personal work flow. Prior to using Editorial I didn't really distinguish between writing markdown with my iOS, Android, and Mac editors. Since taking up Editorial, however, I find myself intentionally moving toward my iPad for writing. It is, without a doubt, the best markdown editor in the App Store, and perhaps anywhere. It is certainly worth it's $6.99 price. If you have ever been interested in plain text writing on your iPad, this is the app to get.


  1. Editorial also recognizes other common markdown extensions, such as .mmd or .markdown, but not not these change the core truth, Markdown is plain text (and, yes, you can do footnotes using a version of Markdown).

  2. If the document is stored locally, this button offers to move the document to DropBox.

 

Create works of art with Phoetic

Phoetic word cloud

The words which created this cloud are —Painfully Hopeful, discipleship, geek, books, Jesus, family, technology, theology, story, Wezlo

I have always been fascinated by word clouds. I first discovered them through a web-site called wordle, which takes text and created a spiffy-looking word cloud based word usage. The site's engine is smart, it's able to skip linking words such as “and,” or “a,” or “the” and concentrate on the words which make up the heartbeat of a text. More common words are made larger in the cloud, less common are smaller. I used to create word-clouds from my sermons to see what I was actually communicating in a message. If the largest words weren't related to what I thought my main point was, I knew I wrote it wrong. It's pretty fantastic. Sadly, it also uses Java — which is why I used to use it. I've turned Java off as a web-plugin. If you haven't made that step, though, I highly recommend the site.

My new toy

Catch the fire, circle up

An image for our church transition. The words are the circles which will make up our new structure.

I'm still fascinated by word clouds, so I've taken to scanning the iOS app store to see if there is anything which would replace the functionality of wordle. There are several apps which look promising in the store, but my curiosity never led me to make a purchase. Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday morning I discovered an app called Phoetic. It's not a word-cloud in the tradition of wordle. Instead, Phoetic takes an image, and creates an image mask — filling the contrast of an image with either black or white, depending on it's color value. It then uses this mask to recreate the picture using a list of words you provide. The app's features are dead simple to use. Photos can be cropped, the mask levels can be altered or inverted, color schemes can be created, fonts can be chosen (or even added), and words can be selected with simple swipes and taps. The results are stunning.

Things to remember

While Phoetic is simple, and incredibly powerful, there are some things to keep in mind in order to make your word clouds turn out as beautiful as possible.

ABCNJ logo with Annual Session theme

The theme for the ABCNJ Annual Session is - God's Word, Our World. This image could use some more contrast in the palette.


Use high contrast images

Phoetic uses an image mask using contrast as it's key value, so it works best with images which already have high-contrast. In other words, close ups with simple backgrounds or computer art with high contrast are going to give you your best results. You aren't going to recreate huge group shots or nature scenes using this app.

Darker colors equals sharper results

I've had better results with a majority of darker colors in the color palette. Light colors tend to reduce the illusion of sharpness in the generated word cloud. If you like the shape of your cloud but are disappointed in it's sharpness, make the colors darker.

Play with the color order

The color palette is easy to set up and rearrange. Play with your color sets to get your best results. Also, remember the first color in the palette will be used as the background color.

Email any cloud you want to print

I don't like paper, but some people are addicted to printing. So, if you want to print out a cloud make sure you email it from the app, rather than saving it as an image. Emailing the cloud allows you to send a PDF which is set up as a vector image. That means you could scale the cloud infinitely and not lose any sharpness. One a screen you can zoom in to the smallest letters and see which words are being used. For printing you could make the image fill an entire wall and have every word be legible.

One thing I'd like to see

As it currently stands, there is really only one feature I'd like to see, the ability to insert color values by typing in their numerical values (either hexadecimal or cmyk values for printing). That way, I could easily match the colors of my word clouds with the color schemes for a particular brand.

Conclusion

The app is 99 cents. If you have access to an iOS device (the app is universal) and enjoy making unique pieces of art from photos picking this up is a no-brainer.

 

Some days…

There are days when I just don't think I have any pastoral gifts at all and my calling is just a joke people are playing on me to which I haven't figured out the punch line.

Then there are days when I manage to do something useful by God's grace. When I turn around and look at it I think, “Who on earth did that?” I'm amazed to find out I was actually involved.

Most days actually consist of both realities, which is why I go through life rather dizzy.

 

Dear Donald

I don’t typically write “open letters” to other Christians, but your recent blog post made me want to reach out to you. Your follow up post offers a lot of clarity to your first thoughts. I especially love your thoughts on the “not about you” section. This quote was amazing,

But this is a much larger issue. The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?

Thanks for pointing that out. You have no idea how often I’ve had the same thought.

Your first post resonated with me, largely because the reasons why you don’t often attend a “traditional” church service are the same reasons why I don’t often attend conferences. I find sitting in large rooms for hours on end, while an endless litany of people tell me how excited they are, to be emotionally traumatic. The fact that conferences typically break up the endless litany of speakers by putting on faux rock concerts doesn’t do anything to make them more palatable. Like you, I’m an introvert. Noise followed by louder noise does produce fond feelings in me. One of my most common thoughts during a conference is, “Make the bad man stop.”

Unlike you singing does produce an emotional connection with me, but in a much different setting. Also unlike you, I enjoy a good lecture – provide I both know beforehand I’m attending a lecture and I know there is a clear ending time to the lecture1. We have different tastes. I’m pretty much ok with that and I’m sure you are as well.

Other than to tell you how much I resonate with your thinking I wanted to reach out for some other reasons.

First, as a pastor, I wanted to apologize for all the righteous bloggers who read2 your blog and attacked. When people who depend on a particular institution see the institution questioned, the questioning voice needs to be silenced or discredited. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is. I’ve experience similar attacks in my lifetime. They are rarely direct, and hurt deeply. For the wounds inflicted by fellow Christians, I apologize.

Second, I wanted to encourage you. Run away from “traditional” Evangelical worship as fast as you can. If it just leaves you exhausted, numb, or even hostile – it doesn’t matter what the production value is, the spiritual damage it can do is just not worth it. “Traditional” Evangelical worship has turned worshippers into audience members. They are there to give emotional energy to the band, sit quietly when appropriate, and provide the audience track for the sermon. In fact, a lot of the same people who reminded you that worship is “not about you” need to be reminded of the same thing3.

You wrote this in your first piece,

I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow.

That is simply amazing, and it explains why the “traditional” Evangelical worship-service leaves you feeling blah. The audience model of worship turns you into a combination recipient/emotional-prop. You want to work, which is exactly what worship is supposed to be – service to God. The “weekly fill-up” mentality of Evangelical Christianity has got it backward, worship isn’t a service station for congregants and leaders. It’s a temple through which we render service to our Savior4.

I do hope you find, however, a community which deliberately and regularly gathers to serve Jesus. Filled with people who have the same conviction to serve, but who experience God in a way which is different from you. These folks help us see our own blind-spots, help protect our weaknesses, and give us space for our strengths to bless them as well. Being regular isn’t only good for the physical realm5.

Third, I wanted to invite you to come and worship with the little church I pastor if you happen to find yourself in the Philly area. We are in South Jersey, not too far from Center City. You don’t have to announce you’re coming, you don’t even have to let me know you’re there6. I don’t offer this as an, “this will convince him he’s completely wrong about going to church” un-vitation. We probably do a lot of things that would leave you banging your head on the wall. On the other hand, I think you’ll appreciate the eclectic nature of the group. Folks are goofy, fun, and think it’s funny when people take themselves seriously. I think you’d have fun.


  1. Also, lectures aren’t usually filled with people telling you how absolutely wonderful the event is – over, and over, and over, and over. I’m sure these people want to get out of there as much as I do, but they are contractually obligated to sell the product. 
  2. Or at least read other blogs which quoted your blog and wanted to chime-in. 
  3. I also need this same reminder, just in case you were wondering. 
  4. I’m a mystic, so it’s pretty easy for me to embrace this idea. Worship, as far as I can tell, is the act of stepping into the throne-room scene in Revelation. 
  5. Yup, potty humor. I went there. 
  6. We’re small, so we’ll all know a visitor has joined us, but I won’t recognize you, trust me (if that hurt your feelings feel free to borrow my metaphorical wiffle-ball bat of doom and give me a good wallup). Heck, even go by your middle name if you want (don’t give a false name, lying is a sin and then you’d have to confess and give your real name and it would kinda defeat the whole purpose). 

Our Town

This past week, I found myself linked in a post from one of my old LMH acting compatriots. When I followed it to see why I was linked in the post I was delighted to discover our alma mater was launching a production of Our Town — which they had not performed in 23 years. This was important to both my self and my friend because in that 1991 production we played the lead couple of George Gibbs and Emily Webb.

our townstsge

Set in a 3/4 round the intimate environment was perfect for the play

When word spread about the current production on FaceBook many of the old cast and crew connected and reminisced about the time we had with the play. For all the wonderful simplicity of the Our Town's set-design, our production was a monumental undertaking. At the time Lancaster Mennonite High School had no stage on which to perform a drama, the current fine arts center was still months away from opening. So, the cast and crew had to come together and help build a stage in the school's old chapel space (currently the cafeteria). It was probably the combination of the hours spent preparing the production space and the depth of Wilder's script which cemented the Our Town experience into our collective psyche. Personally, I can say the memories of that production are among the most vivid of all my moments on stage. In fact, I still display our cast and crew photo in my office, 23 years later. This photo has became a wonderful point of connection between past and current productions. I scanned the image and emailed it to the current director, but my little gesture got trumped. In a moment of inspiration, our “Emily” printed out a copy of the photo and delivered it to the current cast and crew, along with a congratulatory card and some snacks.

Along with the reminiscing came a compulsion to see the current production for myself. In some ways I'm sure the ache of nostalgia played a role in this desire, but I also felt the need to witness this current cast and crew enter into a joy similar to the one our 1991 group experienced. Last night I was able to travel out to Lancaster along the same path I drove on Monday mornings for two years. I was accompanied by my daughter and my parents. It was especially gratifying to have my daughter along for the experience, as she had never been to LMH before. Her response after the play was, “This place is amazing.”

Aside from being treated to a phenomenal performance, I was also able to several connections. One of my old teachers, who happens to be the father of one of my dearest friends, was at the performance with his wife. I hadn't seen them in over a decade, but I was reminded again last night of what special people they both are. The current Assistant Superintendent of the wider Lancaster Mennonite School remembered me from my time at LMH and we had a wonderful chat (he also tried to recruit my daughter, to which I am not adverse). As a special bonus I got to meet the current director and take a picture with the current “George” (who graciously chatted with a guy who played his role seven years before he was born).

It was a beautiful evening, reminding me how special my alma mater is.

1991 cast and crew

The 1991 cast and crew

 

Snow Bowl

Yesterday it felt like our Philadelphia fate was going to happen again. Everything about the game seemed to be stacked in our favor.

  1. We were playing at home.
  2. It was SNOWING.
  3. We were playing a dome team.

Any Philly fan could tell you, “Of course we'd be losing that game. Don't you remember the NFC Championship game against Tampa?”

So when we were down eight points, and amassed a whopping -2 yards in the first half it just seemed as though it was “business as usual” for Philly sports. When the Lions returned a punt for a touchdown and went up 14 points it seemed certain the day would not end well.

Then “business as usual” took the day off. I actually think it must have gotten buried in the 8 inches of snow which dropped on the field.

  • Our warm weather quarterback figured out how to throw in the snow.
  • Our offensive line invaded the Lion's trenches and evicted their front four from the game.
  • Shady McCoy ran for more yards in one quarter than most backs run in a game.

Having grown up here, seeing the Eagles win a game like this boggles my mind. They can keep boggling it all they want.

Advent Annual

"It's not Christmas" - caption, "Even knowing he will be misunderstood, Wezlo still highlights the importance of Advent"

This is becoming somewhat of a yearly offering, but I feel compelled to once more defend the importance of Advent. This liturgical season is a pause filled with expectant hope. It exists in contrast to the “Christmas Shopping Season,” which is filled with stress and constant movement.

I know people love this season because it is so busy, and that challenging it makes me look like a Grinch. Still, I urge people that the celebration of Christmas isn't hear yet. Find some time to enjoy the pause Advent offers us.