My Writing Process

My Writing Process:

Every writer has his/her own process. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to write about the only writing process that I really know: mine.

This article by Stephen B. Hebert is focused on using Ulysses on macOS and iOS for writing, but any writer should appreciate the ideas about his writing process.

nerd productivity technology

No Smile Here as TextExpander Subscribes to New Business Plan

Years ago I got hooked on automation for fun and productivity, and expanding snippets of text on my Mac made me feel like a wizard.
In those early years, I waffled between Typinator and TypeIt4Me before the introduction of the iPhone. I moved to TextExpander sometime around 2010 when it began syncing with my then-new iPhone. I used it exclusively until Tuesday, April 5, when Smile Software announced the transition to a subscription plan.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. —Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

The idea of a subscription model doesn’t bother me. The software is awesome and remains the only snippet expander that is widely supported by iOS app developers. Why write off more than five years of building habits and muscle memory?
The exorbitant cost.

Expanding Costs

I think I got into the game with my first purchase of Textpander 3 circa 2010 for $19.95 (after taking advantage of a $15 discount). Continuing to invest in the system, I later upgraded to version 4 for $19.95 followed by an upgrade to the last version for another $20. These purchases for my Mac were coupled with versions 3 and 4 on iOS for $4.99 each.
If you’re keeping up, that’s a total investment just a hair short of $70 to license the software for roughly five years, or about $14 a year.
Under the new subscription model, the cost is easy to project for the next five years. The charge over five years for new users paying monthly will be $297. “Loyal” users get a break for 12 months. Here is a full breakdown of subscription costs over a five-year period.

New Annual New Monthly Upgrade Annual Upgrade Monthly
$237.60 $297 $213.84 $267.36

Doesn’t Compare

Smile Software isn’t breaking any new ground with its move to a subscription model. Adobe and Microsoft also made the move, but the return on investment simply doesn’t compare.
If my memory hasn’t faded too much, major version releases of Adobe’s Master Collection arrived about every three years with an upgrade cost of $1,800. The company now charges $50/month to access the entire stable of pro editing software with regular updates, or $1,800 every three years.
Microsoft’s Office Suite used to be in the neighborhood of $400 with deep discounts for students to $150. Now, those apps are available to regular users of Office 365 for $6.99/month, or $419.40 every five years. This includes services such as free tech support, 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage, and web versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook in addition to the full desktop apps.
The cost to subscribe software from Adobe and Microsoft is comparable to the prior cost to buy boxed versions off the shelf. Based on my personal experience, the cost to subscribe to TextExpander will increase from an average of $14/year to $42.77/year, a 205.5 percent annual increase.

Technical Difficulties

There are other concerns beyond price.
Smile seems proud to drop sync services with Dropbox and iCloud to host its new Meteor app on the Galaxy cloud service. No more free to cheap, widely available, mature services available. Just the new They seem to be taking Steve Jobs 2007 “very sweet solution” for developers to heart.

This was a case where history proves that Jobs wasn’t always right. Smile’s mandatory replacement locks users into a service that is arguably less secure. After fallout from the company’s initial announcement and press release, Smile Software issued a clarification the next day explaining upgrade options and the company’s intention “to support it on El Capitan and the next major upgrade of OS X.”


What now?
After turning off snippet expansion in TextExpander, I am adding snippets to Keyboard Maestro as needed. Keyboard Maestro is life-changing software I already owned that easily handles snippet expansion and so much more.

What Else Can Keyboard Maestro Do? Pretty much anything you can imagine including launch applications, click the mouse, palettes, execute scripts, insert text, manipulate windows, record macros, built in flow control, use text tokens, menus and buttons, open, file actions, clipboard history, control itunesnotifications, notifications, and perform image actions.

I lose syncing with iOS this way, but will just enter my oft-used snippets into the the Text Replacement features built into iOS. You can find these options on your iPhone under Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement. Snippets entered here will sync with your other Apple devices, but lack form entry and support for multiple lines or paragraphs of text.
A few other options include Typinator (by ergonis) and TypeIt4Me (by Ettore Software, App Store affilitiate link) along with aText (by Tran Ky Nam Software), the cheapest alternative for a sawbuck. Ettore also offers TypeIt4Me Touch (App Store affiliate link) that syncs with iOS using iCloud.

Long Story Short…

It’s too late to keep this long story short. If you scrolled to the end, here’s the nut of it. TextExpander has priced itself out of my business and I’m using Keyboard Maestro instead.

technology writing

Sorting Out How I Work With Plain Text

My cup runneth over with superb apps for writing, manipulating, and writing text on any Apple device; so much so that it’s hard to pick the one I want to work in right now. A nice problem to have, but still a problem. A post by @macdrifter published on New Year’s Day, Quick Notes with Sublime Text, prodded me think about this.
As a nerd plunked firmly in the “fiddly” class, at least I know one thing. After years of agonizing over which font I want to use and how big the margins should be, I committed a long time ago to working in plain text using Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown (based on John Gruber’s Markdown). All of my files are synced using iCloud or Dropbox for ubiquitous access from my Mac, iPhone, and iPad mini.
On my Mac, most ideas start in Sublime Text 3. It is always open and one of the best text editors on the market (along with BBEdit, of course).1 A bonus to both text editors is the hot exit; all open files are saved and reopened the next time you launch the app. This alleviates my File Naming Anxiety Disorder (FNAD), an affliction that submitted for inclusion in DSM-6.
So from my Mac I may start quickly in Sublime Text, but at some point I freeze and wonder, “Is this really where I want to be working on this?” These are my top three options, all of which recognize variants of Markdown while curating their own unique strengths:

  • MultiMarkdown Composer — This application for writing in MultiMarkdown is designed by Fletcher Penney, the man who designed the markup language. What could be better?
  • Ulysses III — In my memory, Ulysses kicked off the plain text editing revolution on the Mac. The developers completely overhauled the design and it is beautiful (and dovetails perfectly into their iOS app Daedalus Touch).
  • Byword — Another popular app with many writers on the web, Byword’s designers built in capabilities to publish directly to WordPress and Tumblr.

All three are terrific. Though it’s a Mac application, Ulysses III works the most like an iOS app; open a new file, start typing, and it’s just saved somewhere in the app without irritating my FNAD. Byword and MultiMarkdown Composer (MMC) work with standard files that are saved in iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. MMC handles MultiMarkdown metadata better than the other two (as it should coming from the man who wrote the spec).

Another Can of Worms

This has so far focused on the Mac while ignoring two other platforms, the iPhone and iPad. I’m getting bored with this topic for now, so I’m just going to rip out a few points here.

  • Byword is available on all three platforms
  • Ulysses III, coupled with Daedulus Touch, is sort of available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • MultiMarkdown Composer is Mac-only, but being plain text is available for easy editing on any device when synced with Dropbox.


The whole purpose for writing this article is to sort through my options and determine a system that works best for me. I don’t think I am quite there yet. If you’re still reading and curious, I chose to write this article in MultiMarkdown Composer. When I nail down something that works for me, I’ll let you know.

  1. BBEdit is still my go to app for cleaning up and reformatting documents using Text Factories. My most common use case is copying the text of meeting agendas sent to me in MS Word, pasting into BBEdit, running a Text Factory that strips weird spaces and characters, converts to Markdown, which is exported into HTML to publish online. 
design nerd technology

Maximize UI for Rdio & Simplify

When I’m in my Fortress of Solitude working on my Mac, it’s a safe bet Rdio (I’m ELBeavers in Rdioland) is feeding my brain a steady stream of rhythms and beats. Brett Terpstra made Sidecar13, a skin for a third-party Rdio controller called Simplify.
Sidecar13 provides a nice visual interface, but I can’t stand to have anything floating above all windows so I can’t see it in the background.
Then I thought about my shortcut to maximize windows, Keyboard Maestro macro that’s always a quick keystroke away.
First I considered created a Macro Group, but as far as I can tell that only makes actions available based on a selected apps availability. Knowing there had to be a way, I looked at the Maximize Window script again and added an if then else statement.
If Rdio is running, the Maximize… script zooms the front window to 1,116 × 786 (on my MacBook Air) ((This macro’s utility is limited to my screen’s dimensions, but with a little more work someone could tweak the macro to see what size screen it’s dealing with and act accordingly.)) and scoots the window 250 pixels from the left edge of the screen. This fills the space to the right while Brett’s beautiful Sidecar13 languishes gorgeous on the left.
Maximize window macro
Another couple of macros watch Rdio’s status. If it’s active, then Simplify is launched (if it wasn’t already). When Rdio quits, Simplify quits too. When those apps aren’t running, the Maximize Windows macro zooms to fill the entire screen.
2013 10 20 simplify
Check out the macros on Github or just go ahead and download them to use with Keyboard Maestro. Let me know if they’re as helpful for you as they are to me.

general nerd technology writing

Labor Day

Labor Day for us meant our daughter came home for her first break from Valdosta State University, which was great. We miss her when she’s gone, which already kicked in after she left earlier today to return to campus.
We watched The Shining together; her first time. During the first half she was rolling her eyes. Second half? Scared out of her wits. She’ll carry that one around for a while. Hey, they don’t call it a psychological thriller for nothing.
On nerdier notes, I sorted out my text files and narrowed my iOS app use to Notesy for quick reference (though I’m still digging into Editorial). I also began migrating to the new Apple Affiliate program. When you click links to apps and make a purchase, you’re supporting this site.
You can learn more about me, this site, and click updated affiliate links on the About page.


Making Adjustments

Both visitors to Carrying Stones will notice some changes.
Gone is the overgrown path to my writing, which is now featured front and center where it should be. My trials on the web during the past year focused on polishing HTML skills, learning CSS, picking up a little JavaScript and jQuery (with a side of perl), then figuring out where those tools intersect. The result was a mediocre site that only a determined sadist could bring themselves to visit every day. OK, once a week. What? Less than once a month?! Come on!

The journey is more important than the ship.

The astute reader will notice a redesigned keel guiding this ship, so allow me to clear the deck before moving on to reflect on and redefine the purpose of this site. After tinkering with Movable Type for about year, I am giving WordPress a whirl and may switch to yet another platform soon. You may see some schizophrenic changes happening as I settle into my new home. I may talk more about this later for the nerds in the audience, but that’s all for now. The journey is more important than the ship.

Missing the Boat

Jimmy Buffett recorded his story A Pirate Looks at Forty in 1975.

The song contains the bittersweet confession of a modern-day, washed-up drug smuggler as he looks back on the first 40 years of his life, expresses lament that his preferred vocation of piracy was long gone by the time he was born, and ponders his future.
Wikipedia, A Pirate Looks at Forty

As long as we agree to disregard my early days on Usenet, we can agree I have no claim on the pirate’s life. ((I have vague memories of going to bed with a 33.6k Global Village Teleport Modem struggling to download hundreds of segmented files to reassemble in the morning, or maybe that was someone else. Yesterday’s BitTorrent.)) It’s the longing in Buffett’s song that pulls me in with a wish to go back in time to my first contact with computers was the Tandy TRS–80s in junior high school. My first personal computer was a TI–99/4a (should have gone with the Commodore 64) and time was screaming past when I bought my first Mac in 1994, a clumsily-named Performa 6116CD. I was a 22-year-old college English student working full time to support to support my wife and 4-year-old son. My course seemed clearly charted, except it wasn’t. Anything can change if you let it, and all of the signs were there if only I had read them. Here are a few of the beautiful shiny buttons, the jolly candy-like buttons, I strolled past as if they weren’t even there.

  1. Growing bored with Mac OS 8 and itching for a challenge, installed LinuxPPC (still active as PenguinPPC) on the aforementioned Performa and later migrated to Yellow Dog Linux.
  2. A preview release of BeOS PR2 was among the software CDs bundled with the Power Computing PowerCenter Pro 210, a Mac clone I bought in 1997. Of course I ran it! Jean Louis Gassée’s folly screamed on Motorola’s PowerPC processors (@gassee still shares his strong opinions on Twitter) and may have overtaken Apple’s OS if not for Steve Jobs’ decision to stop licensing the Mac operating system. Nonetheless, I dreamed of buying a BeBox.
  3. In 2000, I attended the final Atlanta Linux Showcase toting a new Blueberry iBook (triple booting OS 9, OS X beta, and LinuxPPC no less) before the event moved to Oakland, Cali. I chatted with Eric S. Raymond, saw Larry Wall from afar, and watched what happens when you mix free alcohol and nerds at the after-party hosted by A manic performance of a punk-Devo karoake version of Madonna’s “Vogue,” en vogue at the time, is forever burned in my brain. I corresponded with lead developers at LinuxPPC prior to the event and met that inner circle of nerds devoted to running Linux on PowerPC processors, even working with them to write early drafts of documentation. ((The Internet does not forget. I found evidence of early correspondence with fellow PPC pioneers on comp.os.linux.powerpc from 1999!))

These memories begin to illustrate my lifelong interest in computer technology starting as early as computer classes in 1984, ballooning with with my first Mac in 1994, and exploding with my introduction to *nix around 1999. Now, at 41 years of age, I remain what people used to call a computer hobbyist and look back with bittersweet lament that I never pursued those passions as a career. All of my websites since the first hand-coded vanity blog christened in the late 1990s have been experiments; portals for me to learn new things about computers, technology, and the Internet.
The ocean is full of tech bloggers who began building their audience (which included yours truly) while I turned a blind eye to what I wanted to do, instead doing what I thought I had to do. Hindsight reveals I neglected the opportunities of being in the right place at the right time. Maybe sharing my errant past will clear the path for others who feel stuck to know they can change course at any time, a valuable insight I still struggle to accept at 41. As a nerd with a college education steeped in English literature and writing, my secret goal was to build an audience of readers who return because they enjoy what I write. As I breathe, it is not too late for me to refocus on that goal.

Defining a Purpose

It is now clear to me why, with the exception of a very close circle of friends, each iteration has been a failure. Reflecting on my shenanigans on the World Wide Web is akin to looking at photos of myself as a pudgy pale kid bedecked in striped athletic socks up to my knees, or wearing a Jacque Costeau-style diving mask and flippers at the beach, or wearing a sleeveless black muscle shirt in the driveway of my future wife (that part worked out OK bless her heart). My focus has always been more on the nerdery than the writing, though I cannot ignore both passions and promise to stride forward with less navel gazing.
How do I define Carrying Stones? CaSt is the nexus of my love for writing and technology. My influences include a cast of characters ranging from David Foster Wallace to Hunter S. Thompson with special thanks to Patrick Rhone, John Gruber, Merlin Mann, and Dan Benjamin. I am thankful to these mentors whether they know it or not.
This readers’ guide will help you get your sea legs as I continue my journey:

  • Carrying Stones—This site, which will focus on the posts I write for readers.
  • TerrazzoMy Tumblr blog will host the digital detritus that washes up on my shore (e.g. links, interesting stuff by others, pointers to items of interest).
  • Twitter—For personal (usually silly) conversation as @ELBeavers.
  •—Staying in touch with my nerd self as @ELBeavers.

I hope you stay with me. Let’s go.
N.B. Looking Back While Moving Forward: I considered wiping the slate clean and moving forward with a fresh start without the broken links and mishmash of prior posts. For good or ill I decided to leave it with this post standing as a totem marking a turning point. Kindly take all past work with a grain of salt.


Ulysses III brings something old, something new

Buy Ulysses III – The Soulmen GBR and support this site.
The Soul Men launched plain text editor Ulysses 10 years ago and introduced Mac users to the glory of a full-screen writing environment. I don't claim to know Merlin Mann's opinion about the latest release, but this is what he had to say on his site in 2004:

Ulysses is a text editor for writers. That’s it. It doesn’t make code, draw pictures of your kitty, or pop kettle corn. It just helps you plan, organize, track, and write your stuff in a way that I find entirely intuitive. Other document editors have a full-screen option–Scrivener1 springs to mind, I'm a fan–and the concept has infected Macs and iOS devices as full-screen design was embedded in the operating system. The developers of Ulysses have had ample time to reflect, refine, and redesign the writing environment.

New design for a new era

One of the concepts that made Ulysses unique from the beginning was the idea of semantic writing. Using a predefined set of textual cues, a simplified set similar to the HTML and CSS use to manage textual style on websites, allowed the writing to embolden, italicize, and otherwise enhance the style of their text completely within a plain-text environment.
Since the application's genesis, semantic writing has become relatively commonplace as more writers adopt John Gruber's Markdown, which is baked right into the app.2 The Soul Men also include “Markdown XL,” which augments Markdown with text-based editing marks to mark up a document with inline comments, annotations, or suggested deletions for yourself and collaborators.
By default, the blinking blue cursor is reminiscent of iA Writer for Mac OS X and iOS. The rigid standards required by Writer pushed me away, though I appreciate that app's resistance to my fiddly nature.3

iOS influence, iCloud done right

Well-placed popover windows peppered throughout Ulysses III attractively spice up the app with a flavor of iOS.4
Apple Pages and its ilk still freak me out a little when it offers an iCloud dialog box upon opening. Ulysses III eliminates any weird iCloud-Finder5 confusion by altogether skipping the dialog. Much like most iOS apps, users just open a new “sheet” and start writing. Those sheets may be organized with groups or filters.
The developers built in support for their iOS app, Daedalus Touch, as a natural extension to Ulysses III, though wordsmiths may also sync their work via Dropbox (affiliate link) and, or their own WebDAV server.

Write once, publish anywhere

Most of the words I write are slated for publication on the Web, yet who doesn't need to print every now and then. Ulysses III provides an attractive stylesheet for printing to actual gasp paper. (Print tip: limited options to adjust the fonts are available in the print dialog box).

Room for improvement

Autopairing items such as [], (), and "" would be helpful for writing in any flavor of Markdown (keyboard shortcuts exist for tasks, i.e. select a word or phrase and press ⌘-i to wrap it in asterisks or underscores for italics, ⌘-b for bold, etc.) and I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one who would like to see MultiMarkdown support rolled into Ulysses III.
The Soul Men encourage and welcome suggestions at the bottom of each page at their website:

There may be shortcomings, errors even, and you will have questions. We are anxiously awaiting your feedback, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Let us know how it fares. The Soul Men have done a lot of things right with their latest iteration of their premium writing application. Let them know how they're doing by email at and on Twitter as @ulyssesapp.

  1. Scrivener also enjoys cross platform support with versions for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. More information is available at
  2. I look forward hope the developers will expand to support Fletcher Penney's MultiMarkdown (, which enables writers to display attractive tables set in plain text and more.
  3. For writing apps, I waffle between Adobe Source Code Pro and Inconsolata (though I'm trying out Courier Prime as I write this review in Ulysses III).
  4. Apologies if my extended metaphor left a bad taste in your mouth.
  5. For the record, I prefer Path Finder.

Fantastical-esque BusyCal 2

Shawn Blanc mentioned that BusyCal 2:

“added a Fantastical-esque Menu Bar extra that lets you view your schedule and crate events quickly with natural language.”

I’ve had a BusyCal license for many years and switched to Fantastical in the past year. I have read nothing substantial about the latest version yet, and I’m sure it’s an awesome release, but Blanc’s description implies the upgrade is almost as good as another app. That does not encourage me to upgrade? If you need the full calendar “”experience,”” I can recommend BusyCal based on past performance. If you don’t need a full-screen app, then Fantastical is an awesome alternate and that’s what I will continue to use.

check tags

Our Kids Have an Awesome Orthodontist

If awesome is measured in Mac capacity, our kids’ orthodontist is the awesomest. A quick scan of the office during our visit there today turned up:

  • 3 iMacs at the front desk
  • 1 iMac in the consultation room
  • 5 or 6 13″ MacBook Pros at each workstation

The oddball in the bunch? A Cisco router, but I won’t raise a fuss. My guess is there are some iOS devices in the mix as well.
Maybe I should have been an orthodontist.

check tags

Nailing the Workflow

I’ve played around long enough. It’s time to commit to my writing tools and stick to them. Here’s the list.

On my Mac

As far as I’m concerned, Scrivener is the winner on Mac. I’ve tried them all and have no more questions. Scrivener is it for me.

On my iPad

Discovering Writing Kit made this decision easy. It quickly became the de facto app for writing on my first-generation iPad.

On my iPhone

I’m still waffling here, but since growing to version 2.0 Writing Kit has the edge. It not only syncs with Dropbox (natch) and handles Markdown beautifully and mimics the writing environment I enjoy on my iPad. Elements 2 by Second Gear Software still runs in my stable on my iPhone and iPad because it allows me to send HTML-formatted emails from within the app.
By setting my default Dropbox folder to the root directory, I can move within both apps from one project to another. For instance, I just swapped from my Mac to my iPhone and back to edit this article within the Scrivener hierarchy. Cool huh?
Note: I’ve heard it’s best to close Scrivener when you leave your Mac if you plan to edit files while you’re away. I hear that’s bad juju.

Other Notes

Just because I’m nailing my workflow to the apps I described above doesn’t mean I’m excluding apps–such as OmniOutliner for iPad and iThoughts–that support my work.