Tag Archives: Review

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Mobile Suite Showdown – Editor Layout

Productivity apps on the iPad continue to be one of the top selling points for the device. It’s no surprise, then, that there are several office suites available in the App Store. This post is going to explore the three main “all in one” suites which are available on the iPad – Documents to Go, Quick Office, and Office2 HD. Apple’s iWork is also available in the App store, but the “separate app” nature of the suite sets it outside the scope of this comparison.

Each suite will be explored for file management, editor layout, editing features, and importing/exporting. We’ll primarily look at the word-processing features of each suite, but will also compare the spreadsheet and presentations modules for each app. Today we’ll be looking at the second comparison – editor layout.

Quick Office Editor

Quick Office

Quick office places  it’s formatting buttons at the top of the editor screen. The number of buttons is minimalist, with text formatting options to the left and tools to the right.  The buttons are persistent, allowing for quick formatting without too much trouble.  Oddly, many formatting options are hidden behind a gear icon – grouped with the tools.  Found under the gear icon are font options, alignment, lists, colors, and indents.  While I applaud the attempt at a minimalist interface, I don’t find burying the bulk of formatting options in one cluttered interface to be an elegant solution.

Quick office also displays it’s content in a page-layout format – allowing a content creator to see how their content will look when printed or exported to a PDF.  This can be a useful feature in some instances, but it ends up wasting most of the iPad’s screen real-estate with an exciting display of document margins.

Office 2 HD editor

Office2 HD

If Quick Office to be minimalist in its layout, Office2 HD celebrates complexity.  There are two “pages” of buttons in it’s interface – the first holds text formatting options and the second contains paragraph level formatting like alignments, lists, and intents.  There is, however, one paragraph level formatting option which can be found in the first page of options – paragraph styles.  While is is more a “feature” than a layout choice, Office2 HD is the only “all in one” mobile office suite which supports paragraph styles, and their inclusion as an obvious option is welcome.  The buttons are not persistent, though, they only appear when the keyboard is engaged.  They also feel cramped, and accidental  taps are not uncommon when flicking between button pages.

This suite also defaults to page layout view.  Unlike Quick Office, however, there is an option to switch to “screen layout.” This makes much better use of the iPad’s screen size, and also allows users to zoom the text to a comfortable level without affecting the layout of the page.

Documents to Go editor

Documents to Go

Documents to Go places it buttons at the bottom of the editor.  This is likely a carry-over from the iPhone UI, where bottom buttons are easier to reach while typing, but it translates well on to the larger screen.  There are five buttons in this row – file options, text formatting, paragraph formatting, lists, and tools.  Each button tap reveals a list of common options for that category, along with a “more” option to access more complex formatting.  The buttons, however, are not persistent and actually disappear when the on-screen keyboard is active. Again, this is likely a by-product of the suite being a universal app.  Hiding the buttons when typing makes some sense when using a smaller screen, but on the iPad the vanishing act gets frustrating.

Unlike the other two suites, Documents to Go doesn’t have a page layout view.  It uses a screen layout view only, reflowing the text as a user pinches and zooms the content.  Given that screen layout view makes much better use of the iPad’s screen, the lack of a page layout option isn’t missed much.


Quick Office attempts to create a fast, minimalist, interface while laying out content with a metaphor common to a desktop suite (page view). In the end it ends up failing in both button layout and content layout.  Office2 HD has a complex, and cramped, interface.  It does, however, have two views for content – allowing a user to view content in a way which makes sense on an iPad’s screen.  Documents to Go manages to split the difference and uses a simple button layout and has no page view option at all.  While Documents to Go has some quirks, mostly due to it’s universal nature, it’s still the best editor layout among the three suites.

Mobile Suite Showdown – File Management

Productivity apps on the iPad continue to be one of the top selling points for the device. It’s no surprise, then, that there are several office suites available in the App Store. This post is going to explore the three main “all in one” suites which are available on the iPad – Documents to Go, Quick Office, and Office2 HD. Apple’s iWork is also available in the App store, but the “separate app” nature of the suite sets it outside the scope of this comparison.

Each suite will be explored for file management, editor layout, editing features, and importing/exporting. We’ll primarily look at the word-processing features of each suite, but will also compare the spreadsheet and presentations modules for each app. Today we’ll be looking at the first comparison – file management.

Quick Office File Manager

File management

Each app has, on the surface, a similar way of handling files. A list of files is presented, with various ways to access files which have been imported by different methods. The differences in methodology, however, highlight some of the biggest differences between the suites.

Quick Office

Quick Office makes use of a slick three-pane interface with services in the left-pane, a file list in the center, and file information in the right. Users can also drag and drop files in to different folder, between services, or down to the special icons at the bottom of the screen (for trash, email, and export). Data is presented cleanly, with inviting icons and good visual feedback. Using the left-pane to list connected services is also a good choice. Files can also be searched for in the ever-present search box – a nice touch.

There are some aspects to the way Quick Office handles files which hinder my work-flow. First, folders aren’t listed at the top of the file list by default. This means scrolling through a list in order to find a particular folder (the search box doesn’t seem to return results for folders). Additionally, support for some key Google Docs features is limited. Google Docs allows users to star documents which may not have any other connection other than being “important.” In Quick Office there is no way to see which documents have this flag (or add it to an existing document). As a Google Docs user I rely on this feature heavily, and would love to see it included into Quick Office.

Office 2 HD file management

Office 2 HD

Like the other suites in this category, Office 2 HD gives the user a list of files which can be viewed by a user – but it’s implementation isn’t as slick as Quick Office. First, this suite uses only the left third of the screen to list files, wasting a good amount of real-estate when browsing for a particular file. Second, it always defaults to files created on the device or brought in via a local computer. To access other services, the user has to tap the “back” button upon opening the app – this feels unintuitive. While Office 2 lists folders prior to individual slides, it lacks a any kind of search feature to locate files. This omission is all right for small collections of files, but for people who write constantly, it’s lack may be a deal breaker. Moving and exporting files is also not as easy as it is in Quick Office, and the email function is hidden behind the blue arrow next to each file name. Miss the triangle, and the file ends up opening instead. All in all, the file management features of Office 2 HD leaves much to be desired.

Documents to Go file management

Documents to Go

This suite uses a single pane approach to file management. This makes the interface adaptable for the holding the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation – it’s also frees the app to have the same file management UI on the iPad as it has on the iPhone. Given that Documents to Go is a universal app, this makes sense of a design standpoint, it fails to put the larger screen real-estate of the iPad to good use. Still, there are some nice features in the file UI for Documents to Go. Documents which have been locally downloaded have blue icons, and a file size next to the document name. Remotely stored documents are greyed-out, giving a quick visual clue for which documents are locally accessible. Folders are handled separately from individual files, creating a easy way to browse them. Also, even though it’s hidden behind blue arrow, a user can star items which are being accessed through a Google Docs account. There is also a special selection in the menu for “starred items,” a nice touch. Search is handled by a soft-button at the bottom of the screen, which returns results for the currently accessed account. Other soft-buttons at the bottom of the screen include – local (for documents created locally on a device), online (for online accounts), recents, store (to upgraded to the “premium version” – this is a waste of space), and settings. The interface isn’t as clean as Quick office, nor as cluttered as Office 2 HD, but screams “basic.”


The special Google Docs features, easy folder access, and visual cues for which files have been locally cached are wonderful strokes of genius in Documents to Go. The sheer slickness, easy of navigation, and persistent search box make Quick Office the clear winner for file management in this field.

Avatar, Thoughts

This past Monday a friend of mine and I went to see Avatar in 3D at a local theater.  I’ve been meaning to get my thoughts on the movie down, and so here I go.

First, if you go to see this movie, see it in 3D.  The visuals are stunning and the digital 3D actually manages to do them justice.  I caught a bit of how they did the motion capture for the film, and that knowledge  actually aided my appreciation for the scope of the film – the fact that you’re viewing the actors faces captured as they talks is truly a remarkable feat (they didn’t even do that for LOTR and Gollum, where his face was keyframed).

The story of Avatar isn’t anything original.  It’s basically a re-hash of the colonist, resources, natives narrative that’s taken place all over the globe for the bulk of human history (most closely paralleling the North American version).  As such, there really wasn’t anything surprising amidst the “good soldier learns humility, falls in love, becomes conflicted, transforms to a hero” narrative.  The backdrop is gorgeous – but it’s gorgeous window-dressing for what is really a mediocre plot and thin character development.  Probably the most disappointing part of the story is how the character of Pandora itself wasn’t explored – especially since it comes to light that the planet is essentially an organic network.  Delving into Pandora’s story would have been fascinating.  The fact that the war on the planet was fought over “inobtanium” – a mineral more valuable than anything on Earth, but it’s never explained why in the film – left me groaning.

While the middle portion of Avatar showing how Jake Sully came to appreciate the uniqueness of the living network of Pandora as a budding Navi hunter, this story-line eventually runs into the war-like human passion for…. inobtanium (groan).  Oneness, “they didn’t need to die,” and thanking one creature for giving it’s life for other creatures to live quickly fade away to the typical Hollywood tale of the Myth of Redemptive Violence.  The movie comes down to a massive battle of groups trying to kill the other side faster that they can be killed.  Oh, and you know the Navi are the side to root for because Pandora sides with them in the fight (by sending carnivores to beat the snot out of the Marines).

Look, I don’t expect much in the way of ethically challenging resolutions in Hollywood blockbusters, but I would have appreciated maybe a little more depth than the “the noble savages stood up and fought off the oppressors by shear nerve, courage, and will against the cowardly oppressors.”  In the parallel most closely aligned to Avatar, the people to attempted to do that died horribly and the oppressors (a) won decisively and (b) gave the oppressors even more reasons to justify their in-human treatment that they visited upon the natives.  The probalby with the myth of redemptive violence isn’t just that it’s too unimaginative to make for a compelling movie, it’s that when it’s tried in real life the results are always bad.  I’ve seen Christians complaining that Avatar promotes a “leftist agenda,” but the deeper reality is that it promotes the world-view of the warmonger better than any pantheist leftist agenda, “The only defense is a great offense.”

You might think that I’d recommend skipping this one in the theater and watching it when it comes home on Blu Ray or DVD – but I’m not.  The effects of the film are that good, and worth seeing in 3D on the giant screen to be truly appreciated.  While I found the last third of the film to be mentally tiring – it was an emotional arc that wasn’t a bad emotional ride with occasional depth in character that broke through the paper-thin story-arc.  So go ahead and see it, and be wowed by what you see – a huge and over-done melodrama with scenery worth the price of admission.  It’ll win every effects category at the Oscars this year, but not muhc else.

Hands on with the DSi

Here's an example of the type of editing you can do with the DSi

Here's an example of the type of editing you can do with the DSi

OK, here’s the scoop.  My DS was dying thanks to having spent a year being passed between myself and two rowdy children.  The kids eventually got their own DS systems, but mine never recovered.  The mic was flaky, one hinge was breaking, and the cartridge slot was more miss than hit.  So, when Game Stop had a great trade-in deal in anticipation of the DSi’s release my lovely wife said I could combine the trade-in with a stocked gift card and pre-order the newer system.  I picked it up yesterday and played with during my Sunday afternoon crash. Here’s what I think so far.

The Good

  • The larger screens are beautiful, and the brightness has also increased.  I just played Mario Kart with my son for about an hour and the difference for a 3d game is very noticible.
  • The controls feel better in my hands then they did on my DS.  On the DS my hands would cramp up even after only short sessions playing the system.  I have a feeling that the controls are a bit more widely spread on the DSi, and it makes a difference for me.
  • The Cameras are the DSi’s killer feature.  My kids love warping their faces (actually, telling me what to warp – I’ve suffered the long painful death of one handheld already, thank you very much).  I spent a significant amount of time playing with my ugly face, making it uglier.  I found this highly entertaining.
  • The free browser download was a nifty way to get people into the DSi store on the first day.

The OK

  • The store is a great idea.  I think there’s 6 apps in it right now.  So I have 1000 free DSi points and nothing of interest I want to spend them on.  We all know Nintendo likes to try to keep the crud off their systems (with varying degrees of success), but they needed to have a much large launch library in their new store.  Hopefully new titles will be added to the DSi faster than they’re added to the Wii Ware store.
  • Battery Life is still good, but less than on the DS.  I’m thinking that this is because wireless communications are left on unless you tell them to be turned off.  I’m not sure if the DSi will turn them on when called, as the DS did – if it won’t, then Nintendo needs to come out with a firmware update fast.

The Bad

  • Whoever let that SD Slot cover out of R&D needs to have their head examined.  Seriously.  The manual (yes, I read the documentation) specifically warns againt exerting too much force on the cover.  That’s good advice, but do you think they’d design a cover that doesn’t look like it’s designed to force you to exert excessive force in an effort to get it open?  If mine lasts for 6 months I’ll be surprised, this is because…
  • The DSi needs a way to transfer those cool images I edited to another device without having to eject the SD card.  Heck, I’d even like to be able to e-mail them, if I could do that, that would be acceptable to me.  As it is, I need to eject the SD Card, plug in my reader, mount the card, and then copy them over to my macbook.  There needs to be a better way to do this, really (and Apple, I’m looking at you here with my iTouch too, OK?).
  • The browser is a joke.  It’s slow, runs out of memory faster than you can blink, and opera’s killer feature, page zoom, doesn’t seem to be included (at least, I haven’t figured it out yet).  The browser does have an interesting “column mode” which makes the pages readable over two screens without layout – but this seems to be a solution that would have been necessary on the first DS.  If the DSi browser was auto-detected as a mobile browser (for some reason it apparently doesn’t register as such on the sites I’ve visited) then people could view the mobile versions of the pages they visit – which makes sense, given that it’s a mobile device.  The browser was a great way to introduce people to the store, but man it’s implemented poorly.

In the end, the DSi is a decent incremental upgrade to the DS Lite, which is all it ever claimed to be.  Had I not hit the perfect storm by which I obtained mine I would have been happy to wait until my DS Lite died utterly before migrating.  It’s got some good ideas (like the camera and the store), but until Nintendo allows these things to be used they’re not compelling reasons to upgrade.  Yet.  Right now the DSi seems to be caught in-between worlds.  Right now it’s a toy with some aspirations towards being a full-fledged mobile device.  Given time, it could become a true dual-class device, both a toy and a full fledged mobile device.  We’ll see.

I’m going to keep an eye on the DSi store to see how fast it’s catalog expandes.  Besides games (and old pokemon titles for 1000 points would rock Nintendo), it would be good to see some utilities that grab information from the Net and bypass the cruddy browser experience.  Weather, Twitter, RSS, and IM utilities would be nice to see.

Bottom line is, until the store gets filled up and offers a compelling reason to upgrade, you can feel good about hanging on to your DS Lite, for now.

Stage Hand 1.5

My favorite presentation remote is Stage Hand.  It’s slick, it runs on my iTouch, and works wonderfully with Keynote.  A few months ago I did a video review of one of the inital releases of Stage Hand and folks seemed to like it.  Well, it’s changed so much over the last several releases I felt that the time had some to show people the new version.  So here it is, Stage Hand 1.5 in all it’s glory.

ACTPrinter Review

This morning I discovered that an app in the iTunes app store was going to be on special starting on Black Friday.  The special had the enticing price of “free” and, given that I was just waiting to back some spending money back before picking ACTPrinter up, I immediately downloaded it and set it up.

This is an incredible idea for people who are tired of wasting paper in order to print things like e-tickets (bar codes are scannable right off the iTouch screen), directions, or even sermons.  A small helper app gets installed on your mac and you end up printing any document directly to your iTouch/iPhone as a PDF, and the transfer is seemless.  I normally print out my sermon outline so I can prepare my presentation slides, today I just printed my outline to my iTouch and went to town – it worked perfectly.  This will save me a great deal of ink and paper in the coming year!

I do hope that zooming features are improved in the ACTPrinter browser in future iterations, though, it would be nice to double-tap on a paragraph and have the document zoom perfectly for that portion of text.  Even without this, the ability to carry around anything you might want to print from your Mac is a great idea – and one that is well implemented by ACTPrinter.

Here is my video demo for ACTPrinter: