SimpleMark is updated

Two quick issues have been solved in SimpleMarkPPC.

First, the great Cameron Kaiser reported that SimpleMarkPPC did not run in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Well, it ran, but it did not produce any elegantly formatted Markdown text. The culprit was my internal build of multimarkdown which was linked against 10.5 SDK. He compiled mmd linked against 10.4, replaced it in the app, and success. I’ve updated the app download which includes his compiled version for maximum compatibility. Let me know if it works for you.

Second, I noticed a potential showstopping bug in that as you scrolled through a larger document in the “live preview”, the app would keep updating the file even if you had stopped typing. You would keep losing your place if you were reading or checking out the results of your exhaustive MarkDown editing. Part of this relates to the numerous, repetitive disk writes that I will eventually solve, but the other part was figuring out a way to let the live preview have the focus when you were browsing it. For now, I hacked it to work. As long as your mouse is in/around the preview area, it should not refresh. I’ll fine tune this a bit more with testing, but please check it to see if it works on your end.

Oh, and I crafted a simpler, colorful icon.

— Nathan

Dropbox Logged Me Out But It’s Not Over Yet

Dropbox is logging out PPC users left and right, deporting us from the land of simple file syncing functionality.

But the battle ain’t over yet.

I just did some goofy sleuthing around and experimenting, and I got Dropbox to log back in (for now). I don’t think this is a long term solution. No doubt, Dropbox will probably invite one of their programmers to block this solution (somehow) rather than figure out a simple legacy way to keep file syncing operational. For PPC users, if we want to keep using Dropbox, we will have to find another solution that is more permanent.

But click, read, and try if you really need to.

The fact that this goofy trick worked makes me laugh.

— Nathan

Say hello to SimpleMarkPPC

A couple of days ago, I was whining. I was trying to mock up a MarkDown app for PowerPC machines, and I kept running into stupid, silly bugs. I thought the story was over.

Then I woke up the next day with a fresh insight and perspective to these nagging bugs, and I found a way forward.

Today, I introduce to you the “alpha” release of SimpleMarkPPC (download).

a better icon for SimpleMarkPPC

SimpleMarkPPC is a very simple MarkDown editor for Power Macs. Essentially, it’s just a wrapper for the wonderful multimarkdown command line utility. You can create and load text files, mark them up with the elegant and responsive MarkDown code, and export them to html, LaTeX, or RTF. Though it may seem simple, MarkDown is actually quite complex and capable of a lot of cool stuff. Best of all, you don’t have to use brew to install multimarkdown yourself – I’ve embedded a compiled copy which should work on most Power Macs.

The app updates what you type on the fly by converting it from MarkDown into html, giving you a live preview of how your finished product might look. The conversion is darn good, although it is free of CSS. I’ve kept the app down to the bare bones and will work on polishing the user interface some more in the future.

I hope this is useful to you. It will remain free.

Here’s a tentative road map of what I will tackle next as I sharpen the program:

  • Reduce writes. Right now, to produce the live preview, the text and html files are saved to the disk every few seconds. I’ll find some ways to thrash the hard drive a little less.
  • Print. Got to add some printing capabilities.
  • Support for window resizing/full screen.
  • Font and window transparency options.
  • Making sure I am free software license compliant.
  • Get a better icon.

Please, please, please give it a whirl. Right now, it has been tested on my Power Mac G5 and my Mac Mini G4 in 10.5.8. What about a machine running Tiger? What about a G3 or older G4 Mac? I’d love your feedback.

— Nathan

Easy Programming with great frustration

In my search for an elegant MarkDown solution for my Power Mac G5, I have continued to dig into all kinds of options from fiddling with open source editors written in Python to building my own.

Programming on your G5 is actually pretty straightforward.

I remember the first Power Mac G4 I got my hands on at a previous IT job many years ago. As I was studying computer science at the time, my first action was to jump into terminal and see if “gcc” was really included by default. And sure enough, every Mac comes with a standard open source compiler. Cool!

Of course, if you want to build something beyond a simple command line app, you’ll need bigger and better tools. The best is XCode, which you could typically install as an extra from your Leopard DVD. You can still grab XCode 3.1.1 from the Apple Developer site here. You will have to log in.

There are other options too.

One of my preferred options over the years was Real Basic. Today, it’s called Xojo, since it really has nothing to do with the BASIC programming language that some of us encountered years ago. Real Basic was an interesting tool because it let you start at the end of your coding process by building the GUI app first and then adding in the functionality you want to have happen. The code is also fairly readable and simpler than Objective C at the cost of a lot of potential fine tuning.

My first experience with Real Basic was with an academic version in my IT position. We needed an OS 8.6 compatible screen lock to have students log into lab computers with a pass phrase. I whipped one up in like 30 minutes using Real Basic.

On Leopard, I’ve used Real Basic to create game character generators and other basic text manipulating utilities in a pretty short amount of time. I’ve grown to like some of its features even as other things drive me nuts.

To bring this home, I decided to crank out a couple of MarkDown attempts using Real Basic. The last version to work on Power Macs is 2009R3. I first built some basic code that would automatically edit what you type into a rich text field and catch MarkDown formatting. While it sort of half worked, it was way too complicated after even just a few basic formatting commands.

SimpleMark Beta

I then used “brew” to install the ever useful multimarkdown command line utility which can take a text file with MarkDown formatting and turn it into a pdf, html file, or whatever. It’s a really great option for working with MarkDown. In Real Basic then, I created a simple window with a rich text field on one side and a live preview html window on the other. As you typed, the program would quickly use multimarkdown to generate preview html of your document. It was dead simple and started me down the path to a solution.

But then I hit a road block – whenever the live html preview updated, it would steal focus from the rich text field. No matter the workarounds I tried, there was no way around this. It turned out to be a bug that was eventually fixed in a later version of Real Basic, which won’t run on my machine.

This is life with older machines.

If you happen to have a license of Xojo/Real Basic, they will still let you download an access key and older copies of its software. I recommend it if you want to mess around with some simple prototype apps or invite a young person to learn some basic coding building blocks. But where you save time, you’ll ultimately also give up the ability to have an app do what you want it to do.

— Nathan