Oct 222014
 

If you blog, write notes, write articles or books, or any form of writing with formatted text you might want to consider using Markdown.

John Gruber who created Markdown a decade ago describes it this way:

Markdown is a plain text formatting syntax that allows you to write in an text editor and then have it converted to valid XHTML (or HTML).

What this means is that you can write formatted text using any text editor and then via a software tool have it converted to an HTML document. As the use of Markdown has grown there are tools for converting it to many other forms including PDF. One source document can be converted to multiple formats.

I use Markdown as part of my daily workflow to write notes, help documents, blog posts, and pretty much any writing workflow. The main reason I like Markdown is that I can write even heavily formatted documents in plain text and still have the plain text version be very readable. Often I don’t even convert these documents since I can easily read them as is. While I could certainly write them using HTML tags that really reduces the readability and it can quickly be difficult to read in plain text form. Once I have written a document in Markdown I can quickly convert it into the medium of choice. I use it to quickly create ebooks from Markdown documents along with converting online web pages into Markdown for reference later.

To give you an example of how easy Markdown is to use, here are some examples.

By using one or more Number signs # I can quickly write headers and use > to create blockquotes.

For example:

# Header 2

> This is an example of a blockquote

Header 2

This is an example of a blockquote

Bold and italics can be accomplished using:

    This item is **bold** and this is using _italics_.

Becomes:

This item is bold and this is using italics

Want to write lists?

+ This is item one
    * Indented list item
+ This is item two
+ This is item three

1. This is a numeric list item one
2. This is a numeric list item two
3. This is a numeric list item three

Becomes:

  • This is item one
    • Indented list item
  • This is item two
  • This is item three

And:

  1. This is a numeric list item one
  2. This is a numeric list item two

    a. Another

    b. Another

  3. This is a numeric list item three

But what I really love about Markdown is how I can insert links.

Now it is easy to do inline links to create a link with the text you give it or a naked link like using angle brackets.

[Some Site](http://www.ewtn.com)

<http://www.ewtn.com>

Becomes:

Some Site

http://www.ewtn.com

This is fairly readable, much better than <a href=“http://www.ewtn”>Some Site</a>, still I find reference links even better.

With a reference link I can name a link and then put the actual URLs at the end of the document. This makes reading the plain text version much easier and you have alllk your links in one place and you don’t have to repeat them when using the same reference.

Here is a link to [Some site][ewtn] along with a link to [Catholic Answers][catholic]. Plus here is a link to [my blog][jester] and another link to to [Catholic Answers][catholic].

[ewtn]: http://www.ewtn.com
[catholic]: http://www.catholic.com
[jester]: http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester

Becomes:

Here is a link to Some site along with a link to Catholic Answers. Plus here is a link to my blog and another link to to Catholic Answers.

Reference links make my life so much easier. When I post the Weekly Francis I write it in Markdown and I have all the URLs listed at the bottom of my document for both readability and be be able so easily spot malformed URLs.

Images can also be inserted via inline or reference links.

![](http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/vatican_top_button.jpg)

and

![][uparrow]

[uparrow]: http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/vatican_top_button.jpg

Becomes:

and

Now this post is not intended to be a full Markdown tutorial. Just one to show you the simplicity and power of Markdown and why it might be something you could use.

Since Markdown was originally released a decade ago the syntax has remained stable. Still there are other flavors that have added onto the original Markdown standard such as MultiMarkdown and a new standardization format called CommonMark. While all these variants support the original syntax they also add support for other features such as tables and more advanced formatting features. You can also use straight HTML format in Markdown documents along with Markdown syntax.

So once you have written a document using Markdown syntax you might wonder just exactly how you convert it to XHTML or other format. There are a growing number of editors that allow you to write in Markdown and preview it live and then convert it. On Mac OSX I happen to use Marked 2 app because it is super-powerful allowing me to use any text editor I want and get a live preview of the document along with ability to convert into multiple formats. If you come to like Markdown and have a Mac Marked 2 at $13.99 on the Mac App Store is worth every penny.

While you can use any text editor to create these documents it can be useful to use an editor specifically created using Markdown more like a traditional word processor. Here are some suggestions. Not an exhaustive list by any means as this is a growing field.

  • OSX
    • MacDown – A free an open source version for the Mac.
    • MultiMarkdown Composer A paid app, bu they have a demo version.
    • Marked 2 which I previously mentioned.
    • Ulysses III a writer’s tool for long-form documents including novels which can be used with Markdown and other markup languages.
  • Windows
    • MarkdownPad. This is the only one I have used on the Windows side and it has a free and a pro version.
  • Linux
    • No experience regarding Markdown editors on Linux, but they are available. If you have suggestions let me know.
  • OSX and Windows
    • Scriviner 2 Another professional app for writers that is very powerful and can use Markdown syntax. Lots of management features if you are writing anything from a research paper to the Great American Novel.
    • HastyScribe A command line program to convert Markdown Documents to self-contained HTML pages.
    • Sublime Text 3: Powerful text editor that has packages supporting Markdown. $70.
    • Atom.IO: A free open source text editor with both support for Markdown formatting and previewing. Also very powerful and similar to Sublime Text 3 and created by GitHub.

In addition many websites already allow the use of Markdown such as reddit, wordpress.com, and Squarespace along with countless sites used by programmers such as StackOverflow and GitHub.

The amazing thing about Markdown is that I could write this post in plain text and have no problem viewing it as plain text. I will use Marked 2 to create the HTML which I will paste into my WordPress blog. I keep this original post in a plain text document which I store in Dropbox. I wrote this in Sublime Text 3 which is my text editor of choice.

Markdown References

Original Markdown

MultiMarkdown

CommonMark

Markdown Tutorial

Heck Yes Markdown Converts a web site from HTML to Markdown. Can also format document using Readabililty

MDwiki: Create a Wiki site using Markdown using a single document to launch it.

Jekyll: A framework for creating websites and blogs using Markdown and generating a static website.

Oct 212014
 

I love to read and mostly I have transitioned over almost totally to ebooks. That transition started four years ago with the introduction of the original iPad in April of 2010. At the start the apps for reading ebooks was rather limited with only basic features. The original version of iBooks was pretty good and the notes and highlighting features worked from the start. The introduction of the Kindle app opened up reading books from the Amazon store. Still as time went on I wished for more powerful features.

One of the positive features of eBook readers is being able to quickly highlight text for later along with attaching notes. In both iBooks and the Kindle apps there were some mechanisms for seeing these notes/highlights outside of the app.

The feature I wanted most was to be able to copy my notes/highlights to a text file for easy access and search outside of an app.

  • With the iBooks app you could see all notes/highlights for a specific book but couldn’t easily share the whole set. Now that OSX also has an iBooks app, it is a bit easier to access/copy these notes. If you import a book into your library this all works the same way.
  • Amazon allows you to view all your notes via a web page. This works fairly well and you can even navigate to location in the book referenced. Unfortunately if you import a book into your Kindle library not purchased from Amazon, no notes/highlights will show up.

So I started looking around for an eBook reader that would better fulfill my requirements. Specifically I wanted to be able to export all notes/highlights in plain text for reference. I did not want to be tied down to any proprietary system where I could loose access to these notes.

My search for these features along with a wealth of others was fully satisfied when I found an app called Marvin which is iOS only (I will give an Android suggestion at the end of this post). With Marvin you can annotate away and then via email:

  • Send highlights and notes. A HTML and a comma-separated values (CSV) version are attached to the email that is sent. The body of the email also includes title information.
  • Send vocabulary (any words you wanted defined while reading). You can choose to send any vocabulary words for the selected book or any vocabulary words from any book you read via this app. Format is also HTML along with CSV.
  • Export annotations (all highlights/notes/bookmarks/vocabulary). This sends an .mrv file which can be imported back into Marvin at a later date or shared with somebody who has the same book and the Marvin app.

These features alone sold my on the app. The fact that this app is constantly updated and well maintained adds to the joy of using it. The interface is aesthetically pleasing without getting in the way.

As with most third-part eReaders the books you read must not have Digital Rights Management (DRM) which is copy protection added to many books. There is little movement towards publishers releasing books without DRM, but some publisher do. For books on Amazon it will note whether the book has DRM or not. Ignatius Press does release there books without DRM. Sites such as Project Gutenberg have books in the public domain that can be used along with other sites. For the more adventurous it is relatively easy to remove DRM from books you have bought.

Since I have a number of ebooks I use the open source and multi-platform application called Calibre to manage my library. Besides providing a central location to manage ebooks it will also convert from one format to another along with a wealth of other features. I keep my Calibre library stored on Dropbox since this provides both backup and can be accessed from iOS/Android apps.

Calibre

To read my books from my library in Marvin I can import them directly from Dropbox or I could use the Calibre connector. What I found unique about Marvin is that when I select from Dropbox it lists recently added files first. This makes it very easy to find recently added books regardless of where they are stored in Dropbox.

db
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It is very easy to manage the local library on your device to both add content and to just swipe to delete. You also have access to themes to change out the UI. As for the main reading environment you have all the features of other eReaders such as font size and foreground/background color. But a wealth of other elements to tweak are also available such as margin width, line spacing, paragraph indent etc. Along with setting your preferred gestures to navigate from page to page. The wealth of features can be a bit overwhelming.

A rather unique feature is called Deepview which searches the book for characters and often used terms and then lists them by number of uses. From this view you can also quickly connect to an authors Wikipedia page or other articles about them. You can even create your own summary quickly including what is found in Deepview.

Book syncing is provided via Dropbox. So it is quite easy to continue reading the same book going from an iPad to an iPhone and I found this worked well in practice. Marvin is now a universal app for both the iPad/iPhone. In the past they were separate apps. Searching for text in a book works well and I only mention this because I have not found this true for all eReader apps.

The app even includes a timer so you can be reminded to stop, although not a feature I use. More importantly it does tell me how many pages are left in the chapter so I know if I can squeak in some more reading before finally quitting for the night. I really love this app and it just keeps getting better.

Now for those who are on Android there are two apps I have used that I could recommend. They are not as good as Marvin, but have their own strengths.

  • Moon+ Reader Pro – You can import books from Dropbox or Google Drive in multiple formats including PDF. You can also use Text-To-Speech (TTS) and switch between reading and using any voices available on your device. This worked, but I found it buggy, which is why I found a different app to use.
  • Montano Reader – Fairly advanced with many features. For Android this was my preferred reader. Sync though is a paid feature requiring a subscription. TTS worked very well here and I could easily switch between reading and listening.

Marvin is geared towards EPUB formatted books and that is my format of choice. I use Calibre]calibre to convert Kindle books to EPUB. What Marvin can not handle is PDF documents. For PDF I use an app called Goodreader which is also only for iOS. Goodreader is also very powerful also allowing you to note/highlight and export this information out. It also works with multiple cloud services such as Dropbox and make reading PDF’s almost a delight. You can visually crop a document to get rid of excessive margin whitespace making it more readable. Marvin and Goodreader together pretty address all my reading needs.

Feb 062014
 

While I was on vacation I was asked to review an an iPad app called “Mass Explained”, with the full title being “The Mass Explained Volume 1: The Introductory Rites & The Liturgy of the Word.” My initial thoughts before getting a chance to download it was that it would be just another Catholic app with some good content, but nothing to rave about.

So I was pleasantly surprised that it is indeed something to rave about. When I saw that the introduction was by Mike Aquilina I knew that I was going to find solid content.

If the majority of the contents of this app had just been printed as an ebook it would have been worthwhile, but maybe not very engaging. I was really stunned by how good the layout is along with all the graphic media found on every page. This is a very beautiful app that is fairly simple to navigate. Swipe horizontally to navigate to chapters and other major sections and swipe vertically to page down through it.

I would go more deeply into reviewing it, but recently Thomas L. McDonald did a comprehensive review that should be read instead.

As an application developer myself looking at this app just from a technical perspective I find this to be a stunning achievement. It combines the best of the old school textbook layout with elements that can only be achieved in an electronic text book such as information in the side bar or other places that can be scrolled through. As someone who works in the field of creating courseware content creation tools along with other training applications again I am extremely impressed with this app.

So what is the Latin for “Let it be published on the App store”? Regardless this app carries both the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur along with being reviewed by ICEL and approved by the USCCB.

In his review Thomas McDonald said:

Here’s where we come to my one reservation: at $25, it’s expensive for an app and even expensive for an App Store book. As they say of big budget movies: it’s all up there on the screen. The production values are top notch and the writer has done a great deal of work producing the text and adding multimedia content. There’s no denying it’s a slick piece of work. I don’t begrudge the creators their price point, but it does limit the audience.

The good news is that, purchased in volume (20 or more copies), it qualifies for Apple’s Volume Purchase Program, which offers a 50% discount.

To which I totally agree, but I would love to have this app seen and used by a larger audience.

Dan Gonzalez is the developer and should be praised for what he has pulled off.

Mass Explained site

iTunes link – App is for the iPad only.

Jun 172013
 

The My Confessor app lets busy Catholic priests update their statuses from their phones. Currently, the app is only available for users in the Madison, Wisc., area. Heilman sees this going national.

God may be omnipresent — but His priests aren’t.

So a holy man in Madison, Wisc., has turned to app development, along with divine guidance, to find a better way to tend to the needs of his 800-family flock.

Father Richard Heilman is launching a My Confessor App that will let his parishioners know when and where he is available to listen to their sins.

After 25 years in the ministry, Heilman believes Catholics could do with a bit more priest-and-me time. His preferred dosage is at least once a month.

“Maybe more often if you’re dealing with repetitive sin,” Heilman told The News. “A lot of us aren’t in a state of grace and confessions help that grace flow freely.”

My Confessor App screenshot
My Confessor App screenshot

I think this is just so awesome.

The idea is simple. A red status box means “Father is OUT.” A green status box means “Father is IN.” And priests have a special log in that lets them easily update their statuses and even post messages, according to app developer Mary Hoerr.

The app also has a section explaining the sacrament of confession, as well as another place where users can read priests’ bios.

Heilman is the only priest on the app for now and he’s been paying all the development costs out of his own pocket. But he says several other priests have reached out and asked to get involved. The app currently serves people in the Madison area. However, Heilman sees this going national.

He envisions an app that has a Google map with markers that point out where the nearest priest is. So if you’re driving by and you realize that there’s a burden on your back that you need to unload, users of My Confessor will know exactly where to go.

“I want people to not feel uncomfortable asking about confession,” Heilman said. “We want everybody ignited in the holy spirit.”

The app will be available to both iPhone and Android users later this month. For now, those interested can check myconfessor.org for updates.

I hope this takes off as an idea. Confession is something that seems to be so deemphasized. Most parishes you find it available for roughly half-an-hour on Saturdays and of course by appointment. Neatly tucked out of site for most people and “reconciliation rooms” not located in the main part of the church makes it unlikely to see people going to confession.

I like the service MassTimes.org to easily find a parish wherever I am, but it hardly has any information on confession times. I would just love to be able to have an app that let me know where I could go to confession based on location and time.

So super kudos to Father Richard Heilman for not only making this app, but for making himself available to hear confessions.

Via The Deacons Bench

May 122013
 

One of the problems I have with novenas is being able to remember to pray them during each of the nine days of if you are doing a novena of novenas during that time frame. So last Friday being a traditional day of starting a novena I remembered that I had recently seen an iOS app designed for novenas and so purchased it. Simply called Novena and priced at $2.99.

There are many ways a mobile application could help with praying a novena as far as scheduling goes. Unfortunately this app came up with none of these ideas. No push notifications. No scheduling. Nothing to track what day of a novena you might be on.

Neither was I impressed by the design of the app. Apparently not much effort went into design and it only worked in portrait mode in one orientation. Being a universal app for the iPhone and iPad it at least supported both platforms. Yet on the iPad the menu was apparently the same as for the iPhone or so just took up a small area at the top right part of the screen.

On the plus side novenas were grouped in several ways that could be useful in finding the one you want. You could also favorite one to easily come back to later. The artwork seems to have been taken from German holy cards and I did like the look of these cards and they did give the look of the app some consistency. Once selecting a novena you were presented with the individual novena and you could select or swipe to a history of the saint involved.

One nice feature was that for each image you could select Symbols to show a text overlay explaining some of the symbolic components in the image.

Overall I was disappointed by this app for missing obvious features and having a poorly designed interface and menu. So if anyone knows of an iOS novena app with push notifications and/or some form of scheduling please let me know.

Mar 062013
 

The Vatican web site has long frustrated me as evidenced by my parody post back in 2005. There are plenty of things that drive me crazy about it especially the navigation and the fact that instead of using CSS they use table formatting for documents.

So I was a bit surprised to see shortly after the interregnum started to see a commemorative site for Pope Benedict XVI setup that for the most part was quite nice. They setup what looks like a physical book where you flip pages to see photographs with descriptive information that gives an overview of Pope Benedict XVI papacy.

Now the fact that they did this using the metaphor of a book in this case works out pretty well. Not all cases of skeuomorphism in design are bad. Really skeuomorphism has been used considerably in Catholic art and architecture. I was quite surprised when I viewed this on my iPad that the flipping of pages was done via smooth full animation where the page curl followed your finger as in the iBooks app. The same effect can be used with a mouse or on a desktop browser you could just click on the edge to advance through the pages or via the keyboard. This commemorative “book” really is quite nice, although I haven’t made it through all the pages without tears threatening to well up.

This would be quite awesome except for one thing. There was something odd about the design that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and Father Roderick pointed out exactly was wrong. The font used is Comic Sans. I am sure one of the anathemas for the Council of Trent was regarding Comic Sans, if not there should have been one. See Fr. Roderick’s meme graphic.

Now if they removed the Comic Sans and made this as an actual ebook I would buy it in an instant.

Jan 232013
 

So the Vatican puts out a new app called “The Pope App”, specifically put out by the Pontificium Consilium de Communicationibus Socialibus.

What is amazing is that it doesn’t suck. In fact it is quite well done. Just from a design perspective it is clean and functional. I totally agree with Thomas L. McDonald’s review which also includes some screenshots.

It has the following sections:

  • Live – Video streaming of some live events.
  • From the Pope – Angelus, Homilies, General Audiences, etc.
  • News
  • Images
  • Video – Archived video of Papal events
  • Webcams – Yes Vatican webcams.
  • Vaticano – Links to the Pope’s Twitter feed along with other related links.

My only real critique is that for something called “The Pope App” I would think a basic biography of the Pope would be in order and maybe something about the Papacy itself. Although this is a “preaching to the choir app”, so maybe this is not necessary.

Must have for pAPPists.

Jan 082013
 

I’ve lamented before about the lack of Catholic podcasts. There are certainly some high quality ones out there, but there are relatively few compared to Protestant and even atheist podcasts

Now one avenue for getting quality Catholic media out there is to take an existing show produced for radio and make it available as a podcast. Catholic Answers, EWTN, and Al Kresta do this. This is an excellent way to increase discoverability and to allow people to listen to shows at their leisure.

Unfortunately I saw today two examples of Catholic media failure in this regard. The examples I found indicated they had no idea what a podcast really was. For one thing making an mp3 file available on a website is not a podcast. An actual podcast provides a syndication feed (RSS) where you subscribe to the podcast to listen to via a podcast application. These podcast application can be used on a computer or mobile device. The podcast application then checks when new shows are available and downloads them for use.

There were a couple of Catholic shows I wanted to check out. One was the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick and the other is Patrick Madrid’s new show “Right Here, Right Now

At the top of the Son Rise Morning Show’s site there was a promising tab for “Podcasts”. It even had a Podcast button labeled “Full Feed.” This was not an actual Podcast RSS feed you could subscribe to but just a link to the same page which has a list of shows you could listen to.

Now that was annoying, but I thought maybe I could just download the show to listen to later on my iPad. Nope, no download link just streaming from the site. Plan B: Well I will just load up the page on my iPad to listen to it. Plan B Fail: Page would load, but no episodes appear on the iPad.

Update: Immaculate Heart Radio let me know that they do indeed have podcasts for some of their shows available in iTunes.  They will have Patrick Madrid’s show as a podcast in the future.

Second Update: The show is now available via podcast.

Next I went to Immaculate Heart Radio where I saw a banner for “More streams, podcasts, and more!” Now was there an actual podcast I could subscribe to? You guessed it, no. What they did have is a new mobile app for iOS and Android. This app allows you to listen to live streams and what it called “Podcasts”. In this case the only show available was “Bay Area Catholics” and not Patrick Madrid’s show. Plus again it was not really a podcast, but a show available on demand for streaming.

At least on their Audio Archives page you could download individual shows. It is certainly nice to support someone being able to listen to a show by clicking on a link on their site. Actual podcasts allow you to listen to shows when not online.

EWTN’s new mobile app is another thing I found quite annoying. For the most part mobile apps created for Catholic broadcasters are usually just not very good. Now I understand this is something they hire out for and cost is of great concern. This app certainly I think reflects that. On the plus side they had a universal app for both the iPhone/iPod Touch and for the iPad. There was really no consideration is how it looked/worked on the iPad and you could not change orientation from portrait to landscape for the menus. At least videos played in landscape mode (sometimes). If you lost internet connection and wanted to play where you left off for the video – no luck there. Overall the app was just not visually appealing in any way. On the other hand it might be perfectly usable for many people and it does provide something needed. Maybe I am too picky as being both a developer and somebody who has come to understand how important interface and aesthetics are. This app though looks to me like the iconoclasts won.

Here is something else I found embarrassing. EWTN has a page dedicated to using EWTN on your mobile phone.

On your Iphone or iTouch, start Mobile Safari browser.

Wow where can I get an Iphone? Is that a Chinese knockoff of an iPhone?

How about some instructions for Android users or is it this page just never got updated? Possibly since they don’t even mention their new mobile apps.

They do have a Mobile Apps page and here they link to the iOS and Android apps stores to download this. Oddly though instead of using the standard Android icon, they used the Google Play store icon.

Now I might be a pot complaining about the color of the kettle considering the grammar and spelling mistakes that appear on my site. Still I find the problems noted above to be indicative of some Catholic media.

Dec 262012
 

Brandon Vogt has a post up on some free resources from Logos for Catholics which include the documents of Vatican II and Pope Benedict’s exhortation Verbum Domini until December 31. Brandon’s site has the details and the coupon code necessary to get these resources for free. Brandon also gives information on how to use the tool.

As a user of Logos for the last ten years I have been very happy with both the increased performance and power of the Logos library system and how they have become even more Catholic friendly with a number of Catholic resources. For example one of the most recommended scriptural commentaries is “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture” by Dom Bernard Orchard which had been out of print for awhile. Not only is it in print now, but it is also available on Logos. The power of Logos lets you read the scriptures side by side with whatever commentaries or other writings like what the Church Fathers had said about a passage.

They also have mobile apps (currently iPhone/iPad only, though the Android version is in development) and I had actually just used the Logos app on my iPad to read through the Gospel of Luke on Christmas. I had not realized until I read Brandon’s post that the free Verbum app for Catholic Bible study has included resources where all you have to do is to create a free Logos account to take advantage of them. So you can use the current free resources mentioned above along with those included built-in resources without owning Logos or the Catholic implementation of Verbum. Verbum uses the new Logos Bible Software 5.

What is nice also is that if you go ahead and buy Verbum than all of those Catholic resources are available on the mobile apps along with of course the desktop version. Another thing nice about the Logos ecosystem is that you can start with the basic package and then either upgrade to another package with increased resources or buy individual books. Upgrading to another package is pro-rated based on what you already own. While it is true many of some of the older resources are available online for free – the advantage of Logos/Verbum is that all the resources are indexed so that they are tied to verses in scripture and quickly referenced.

I currently own Logos 4 with the Catholic Scholars package, but did not yet have Verbum. I found though that I could get the Basic Verbum package for $34.95 pro-rated based on what I already owned. Even better using the coupon code “JIMMY” from Jimmy Akin’s site I got a %15 discount and paid $29.41 instead. The %15 discount is good for any of the Verbum packages.

Another nice thing about the Logos library system is the way that it syncs on both the desktop and mobile versions. To set it up you just need to have Verbum installed and tied to your Logos account and then it will download all of the resources you own. So setting up on a new computer is a snap. When I just installed Verbum it used all the information and documents I already had installed with Logos 4 and was up an running very fast.

Verbum Desktop Version
Verbum Desktop Version