The Ubiquitous Yak for the Discerning Obsessive

I saw Sid O’Neil’s post today, Farewell to Text Files, and my immediate reaction was to tweet him and debate it. You should go read it now, because dude is smart1. I didn’t agree with the conclusion he drew, abandoning plain text, because I thought that unfairly laid the blame on a file format. When Linus Edwards and I pestered Sid on Twitter, it became clear the real problem was that the flexibility that text afforded him meant he could keep tinkering with the tools of writing. Ulysses III was just a way to constrain his urge to tweak, to tinker with This Week’s Hot New Text App in the ironically titled, “Productivity” section of the iTunes store.

However, Ulysses III is only a circle of protection that will help for X amount of time. I can’t help but feel burned by the times I’ve invested in software that sputtered out, or were acquired, and I have to come to terms with terminating my relationship with said application. Aperture, not a writing program, is my current hobbyhorse for stagnation in application development. It has a proprietary way to store, and reference, the data inside of it. I have been on the fence about transitioning to Lightroom since Lightroom 3 was announced. I went with Aperture 3. We are now on Lightroom 5 and … Aperture 3. When I posed this argument, Sid correctly pointed out that it is trivial to generate text files from Ulysses III at any time he wants. It’s not nearly as painful as trying to bake out multiple versions of images, the EXIF, and then to import and then to … oh god I really don’t want to do it. Do you hear me, Apple?!

Writing programs stall too. Elements for iOS stagnated when the developer was hired by Hipstamatic. He was, unfortunately, laid off and decided to devote his time to developing his own apps again. He then released Elements 2, but now that’s fallen behind the curve again. The data inside of it, however, was not locked up. It was one of the first of many plain text editors that supported markdown syntax, and Dropbox file storage. As Sid mentioned in his post, this makes the data almost universally portable. His problem was using that portability to try apps, rather than write.

The option problem Sid had was one that I’ve bumped in to with blogging plaaaaatforms, and that is you can get overwhelmed by the options. You can start yak shaving, and wind up configuring every, little thing you come across. Do you see this blog? (I hope so, because I’m all up in your face right now.) Do you want to know how long I spent this morning trying to do @media hacks to force the Tumblr template to do what I wanted on smaller screens? DO YOU?

I had stopped writing, or taking photos, because I was so hung up on where the writing and the photos would go. I’m still not 100% behind SquareSpace because every time I test a demo there is always something just a little off that I can’t easily tweak. It makes me hem-and-haw about spending $8, or $16 a month. I don’t like WordPress, because their backend is unpleasant. (Knowing wink.) I don’t like {{%insert static blogging engine name here%}} because it requires setting up a Rube Goldberg machine to publish to it from anywhere that isn’t your computer. I have even devoted days of time to writing my own Python-based static blogging engine that runs in Pythonista for iOS, but never finished it, because: yak. Ironically, I like Tumblr least of all, but it is the easiest to just shove HTML in to from anywhere. (Pro Tip: Lifehack: Their native markdown support is crazy-bad!)

I’ll circle back to all of this again, and again, but at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing that the posts are all saved, and backed up, in UTF–8, plain text. Dump in the text and see if I hate it or not. Move on and do as little with shoehorning the content in as possible.

This thinking even factored in to the silly iTunes reviews I write. Fountain, a markdown-inspired screenplay format for plain text files, lets anyone copy and paste the text from the review to generate a screenplay. Also, because of this, I can just write them wherever I see fit. ByWord, TextEdit, TextWrangler, SublimeText, Editorial, Highland, and Slugline are all programs I’ve used to write these 12 things. Earlier this week I wrote what basically amounts to a love letter to Fountain’s ideals and principles because I can write my terrible fan-fiction wherever I want to. If I didn’t have these text editors, I’d actually be less productive in my ridiculous, “creative” endeavors, because they mainly serve as a conduit to start writing, even if I will pass it to something else.

2014-01-18 20:52:00

Category: text