Another new markdown contender: Highland 2

Highland 2 was released recently. It is upgraded from a screenplay-only composer, to an authoring tool for many kinds of documents.

The new release of Highland 2 from Quote-Unquote Apps is a full-fledged app for creating writing projects of all kinds. If I understand the history correctly, version one of Highland was specifically for writing screenplays and used Fountain, a markup syntax for just that purpose. But the developers have turned version two into a writing tool for all types of projects.

Here’s what they have to say:

We’ve taken the tools we built for writing screenplays and made them work for almost every kind of document you write. From novels to blog posts and school reports, Highland’s clean design and innovative tools help you focus on words, not formatting.

They have added markdown syntax for formatting text. It seems pretty standard to me, which is to say that it is familiar and easy to use. You can open a cheat sheet for markdown or Fountain from the Help menu. The little window stays on top for you to reference while writing.

Highland fits into the mold of what I’m now thinking of as markdown word processors. That is, it is intended for working on one-off documents, but is not a notebook for your notes. For one thing, it does not have a list of documents in a sidebar. For another it has no universal search — only a Find for the current document.

So let’s take a look at what Highland does have.

Preview mode.

The environment

At first blush, Highland looks like many other editors, with the editing window on the right and a reference panel on the left. Often the left panel is a place for locating various documents, but Highland is meant for you to work on one document/project at a time, so what you see in the left panel is meant to analyze and support the project you’re working on. You can select from five different types of view in this sidebar:

Navigator: Which shows an outline of your work based on the headings and other features we’ll get into a little later. A filter allows you to select various elements to view or not in the outline.

Bin: A place to store snippets of text. Drag a paragraph to the bin, then drag it out where you want to relocate it. Have a brilliant phrase for your work, but don’t know where it goes yet? Put it in the bin until you know the perfect place for it. One small drawback is that you can’t compose writing in the Bin. You have to drag it in from the editor. Not a big deal really.

Statistics: Tells you a bunch of different measurements about your document and allows you to set a goal in words or pages.

Assets: Shows you any items you’ve imported into the document.

Scratchpad: Where you can add notes about the document.

In the upper right part of the screen you will find the “sprint” button to set a timed writing session.

Next to the sprint button are menus for adjusting the theme for editing and the theme for exporting. They could have some more varied and creative options for the export themes.

In the upper left corner of the editor you will find buttons to select editing mode or preview mode, to view what your work will look like when exported.

Most functions have keyboard shortcuts as well as menu or button activation. For example command-E toggles between editing and preview modes.

All in all, the interface is handsome and well designed and includes typewriter mode.

The statistics panel in the sidebar lets you set writing goals, and provides some basic data about your document.

Note to self

Highland has handy ways of making notes to yourself about your project in addition to the scratchpad mentioned above.

[[Enclosing your text in double brackets allows you to create inline notes for yourself that do not print, export or appear in the preview.]]

= Adding an equal sign to the start of a sentence creates another kind of inline note. They suggest it is useful for adding a synopsis to your writing. By default these synopsis notes do not appear when previewing or printing, but there is an option to include them.

Inline notes and context notes will be displayed in the navigator panel, although you can uncheck the option of showing either of them.

One type of note that is missing from Highland is footnotes or endnotes, so Highland won’t be a good choice for academic writing or some non-fiction, unless you’re just doing a draft and importing into a word processor like Mellel.

Missing functionality

There are a few things missing from Highland 2:

  • There is no iOS app.
  • There appears to be no option for synchronizing your project between MacOS devices.
  • There are several export options, but no option for either Docx or HTML files.

One other feature that would be really nice is a file browser view in the sidebar. This way, if you were working on a multi-chapter project, you could keep all the documents in a folder then have quick access to them in the file browser. This would also enhance another nice feature already built into Highland 2, the ability to “include” other documents in your current document on export. With the file browser, they could make it so you just had to drag the file name from the browser into the open document to create the “include” link.

The Verdict

Highland 2 compares well to other markdown “word processors”:

  • ByWord
  • Versatil Markdown
  • LightPaper

It isn’t a substitute for Evernote or Bear for managing notes. But for composing longer documents, it might prove to be the best option — as long as you don’t need a companion iOS app.

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Curio learns Markdown

[Note: This article was updated 5/8/18]

Imagine a notebook that had white boards instead of pages. That’s sort of Curio in a nutshell. Well, maybe I should suggest you add in that you have tools for including

  • Text
  • Lists
  • Mind Maps
  • Tables
  • Index Cards
  • Images
  • Videos

… and other figures to those white boards in order to make sense of your information. Oh, yes, you should add the project and task management features. Right, and also you can add sections to your notebook to organize your white boards. And you can have as many notebooks as you want. (BTW, the white board pages in Curio are known as Idea Spaces.)

You get my point, I hope. Curio is a remarkably robust information manager. (I wrote a review of a previous version for the defunct website MacAppStorm.) Well, the developer, George Browning of Zengobi Software, just released version 12.0, and it just so happens that it dovetails nicely with my Markdown Shakedown series. So here goes.

With the release of version 12.0, Curio now has the ability to work with markdown files. I won’t yet call Curio a markdown editor, as it is missing too many elements required for genuine markdown writing and note taking, but the new markdown proficiency makes for some interesting interaction with markdown editors.

To render text into markdown you just create a text figure, like the one in the image above. Add the markdown syntax, then click the little markdown button in the inspector. When you click out of the text figure, Curio does its work showing what you wrote in its markdown rendering.

You can change the look of your rendered text, but this requires customizing the master markdown style, which sounds a bit complicated, but really isn’t. Curio has a menu option for opening and editing the master markdown style file in whatever is your default text editor. I managed to do it, so it isn’t too hard.

The list of markdown syntax recognized and rendered by Curio.

Markdown limitations

As you can see in the image above, Curio has a limited number of markdown attributes it recognizes. Markdown aficionados will probably have a long list of missing attributes. The two major missing ones for me are ordered or unordered lists and tables. (Of course, if you add asterisks before your list items and export the text into a markdown file, a good markdown editor will render those asterisks as bullets.) Because Curio does do tables and lists with its other figures, this is not a major omission as far as getting information on the page. I asked George if he were planning to add rendering of lists and tables and he explained that it was more of a technical challenge, one that might have other implications… so the answer is maybe, but don’t count on it unless there is an overwhelming demand from Curioites.


Update: After reading my initial draft of this post, George sent me an email with the following clarifications:

Curio does support markdown lists and markdown tables but only to/from Curio’s native lists/mindmaps and native tables (so just not within its text figure)…

Plus you can export selected figures, idea spaces, or even your entire project as markdown — with Curio generating the markdown as needed for rich text, images, lists, mind maps, tables, links, files, etc with optional figure notes as markdown footnotes plus meta tags — is also a huge feature. Basically without knowing markdown you can use Curio to produce a tremendous amount of markdown content. That single resulting markdown file, with associated assets folder, can be viewed with Marked 2 or MultiMarkdown Composer.

Here is a simple example of what he is talking about:

Curio Table Figure

I created this simple table figure in Curio, then exported it using the share as markdown command under the FILE > SHARE menu.

LightPaper Preview 2018-05-09 14-36-52

I then opened the table export file in LightPaper. You can see the exported markdown on the left, and the rendered version on the right.


Curio markdown proficiency

The markdown proficiency of Curio may seem limited, but it isn’t intended to replace a good markdown editor like LightPaper, but to work alongside it. You can extract text from Curio in a markdown format and open it or paste it into your markdown editor of choice.

I exported this article from Curio as markdown and opened it in LightPaper. Voila.

But the real power, I think, in Curio’s markdown proficiency is how you can bring markdown files from your favorite editor into Curio. In the video below I drag a markdown list created in Lightpaper and drop it onto a Curio Idea Space:

The verdict

Well, there isn’t a verdict. You wouldn’t buy Curio to use as your markdown editor, but for the million other things it does, yes, you definitely might want to buy it. The markdown built into Curio adds a new dimension to its usability. One of Curio’s other limitations is that it is only for MacOS. Cognizant of this, Zengobi works to add functions for Curio to work with other apps that run on other types of devices. It interacts with your Calendar. It has an easy way to bring Evernote notes onboard. Zengobi’s free notes app, Curiota, helps capture stuff from the web and elsewhere and then suck it into Curio. The markdown capabilities of Curio now make it possible to, for example, use a markdown editor on your iPad, and save markdown files to your Curiota folder on DropBox. You can then yank that information into Curio as text, a list or a mind map. That’s pretty cool.

Markdown proficiency adds another tool to the impressive list of ways Curio can help you manage, analyze and capture information.

I’m getting bullish on Bear

Bear has a pleasing interface and uses a nested tagging approach to organizing your notes.

Bear is the most full-featured markdown-enabled notes manager this side of Ulysses. Here’s what the developers say about Bear:

Bear is perfect for everything from quick notes to in-depth essays. A focus mode helps you concentrate, and advanced markup options are an online writer’s best friend. Full in-line image support brings your writing to life.

Bear’s winning features

  • Attractive, full-featured editor, though not as attractive as they’d like us to believe. It bothers me that the bullets our out-dented when they should be indented. (You can manually indent them further with the tab key, but they should be indented by default.)
  • No edit vs. preview modes. It renders your markdown immediately, but leaving the markup syntax visible. This means you don’t have to mess with switching back and forth from editing to previewing. I am putting this feature in both the pros and the cons of the app. It’s a pro because it is one less thing to fidget with as you’re writing. (See below for the con.)
  • Bear features an iOS app, and excellent syncing among all your Apple devices, though you pay for this with an annual subscription.
  • Well-stocked export options: HTML, PDF, Docx, RTF and JPG.
  • Powerful tagging scheme, in which you can create nested tags. Bear attempts to automatically match the topic of the tag with an appropriate icon. But in the most recent build (version 1.5) has added the ability to assign an icon — the choice of icons could be better, and the developers promise more choices in the future.
  • Live todos. Type “- [ ]” at the start of the line and Bear renders that text into a checkbox, which you can check off just by clicking inside the checkbox. This isn’t revolutionary, but it is handy sometimes.
  • Chrome and Firefox extensions allow you to clip information from the web into the app. I’ve found the results of the clipping to be quite clean.
  • Universal search of your notes.

Bear lets you render live todos. Also note the nested tag.

Bear’s weaknesses

  • Tagging is the only way to organize your notes. There are no folders or separate notebooks. The ability to nest tags mitigates this lack to some extent by mimicking folders.
  • While the apps are free, you need to pay an annual subscription of $15 to enable syncing.
  • No typewriter mode.
  • Lack of separate rendered and editor views. I like to write my text with markdown, but I like seeing the text without the markdown when I’m reading. The markdown isn’t overly intrusive in Bear, but it is still there.
  • Content is stored in a proprietary database, and not in individual plain text files, so you can’t add to Bear notes simply by adding a text or markdown file to a file in DropBox.

The verdict

Bear is a very attractive app and could be considered by many as the best replacement for Ulysses (or Evernote, even). It has taken me some time, but I’m starting to warm up to Bear.

 

Typora renders beautiful documents

Typora produces the most elegant documents of any of the plain text editors I’ve looked at. It uses markdown, but the markdown disappears when its work is done and leaves just the formatting. So there is no switching between edit and view modes. Watch my quick video demonstration:

Typora markdown demonstration from Stephen Zeoli on Vimeo.

There were many other features I could have demonstrated in the screencast, but I mostly want to show the nearly seamless transition from formatting to rendering without changing modes. I should say that the formatting returns to view when you put your cursor over the words being formatted, so you can edit them.

Things to like about Typora

  • Beautiful rendering of markdown documents
  • Outline view, accessible two ways (see screencast)
  • Numerous export format options
  • Stylish theme options (see screencast)
  • Typewriter mode (the screencast was done in typewriter mode)
  • Document statistics (see screencast)
  • Documents are saved as markdown files in the folders you designate
  • Versions for Windows and iOS

Things to like less about Typora

  • No tagging. This isn’t surprising since Typora is about creating lovely documents, and is not a notes or information manager.

The verdict

Typora may be the best choice for building elegant documents. It isn’t just the outcome which is so fine, but also the experience of writing and formatting that writing that is a pleasure. It isn’t a great choice as a note manager.

Right now Typora is free because it is still in Beta — though it feels like a more ready for prime time app than some of the other markdown editors I’ve looked at. I don’t know what the fee will be when it is out of Beta.

Quiver is solid, but missing a few arrows

Quiver has a nice, clean look and feel that appeals to me.

Quiver Review

The makers of Quiver call it a programmer’s notebook. Here is what they have to say about it:

Quiver is a notebook built for programmers. It lets you easily mix text, code, Markdown and LaTeX within one note, edit code with an awesome code editor, live preview Markdown and LaTeX, and find any note instantly via the full-text search.

For this review, I am going to ignore many of the attributes that programmers might find useful. I don’t care about code snippets, LaTex or Diagrams. I just want to judge Quiver on how it does taking and managing notes. And how good a markdown editor it is.

Things I like about Quiver

  • Markdown is one of the types of cells that can be added to a note. It handles markdown well.
  • The organization scheme is “notebooks.” You can nest one notebook in another.
  • You can switch between the notebooks panel and the tags panel to filter your notes by tag.
  • Quiver looks clean and familiar. I feel comfortable using it.
  • You can view the live preview of your note alongside your editing window.
  • You can add live check boxes within your notes.
  • Quiver has several export formats: HTML, Markdown, PDF, PNG, Plain Text

Preview your markdown as you type.

Things I like less about Quiver

  • While it has an iOS version, that version is read only. So you can reference your notes, but can’t write new ones or edit existing ones on an iPhone or iPad.
  • There appears only one style of rendered markdown, and it is not exactly beautiful. You can adjust the CSS file to change how it looks, but that’s not something I want to have to bother with.
  • While Quiver does tags, you can’t add them with a hashtag in the body of the text as you can with other markdown editors. You click in the tags bar at the top of the editor. Not a big deal, but not the quickest route to tagging.
  • Full text search is a nice feature, but Quiver only identifies the notes with the text, and doesn’t pinpoint the reference within the note, so you can be groping to find the word or string of text in longer notes.
  • Quiver notes are kept in JSON format. That might be a plus for some people, but for me I’d prefer plain text files.
  • No RTF or Doc export option

Unique features

  • I’m not interested in this feature, but others might be. Quiver can create shared notebooks that reside on a cloud drive and which other Quiver users can access and work on simultaneously.
  • As I mentioned, markdown is just one of the cell types that can make up a note. Others include text, code blocks, Latex and diagrams.

The verdict

There’s a lot to like about Quiver, but there is also a lot that seems half-baked for the kind of work I would want to use it for. This isn’t surprising, as Quiver is not really developed for how I would use it. If I were “stuck” using Quiver, however, I think I could make it work and be happy about it.

Versatil Markdown

When you select a folder in Versatil Markdown’s library panel, the app shows you rendered “cards” of each of the documents in that folder.

Versatil Markdown

[This is the first review in The Markdown Shakedown series of posts.]

I am beginning my reviews of markdwon editors with Versatil Markdown only as a random choice. But I do like this writing app a lot, although it is missing too many features to make it my go to note-taker. One specific feature that attracted me is the dedicated spark file for logging and stashing ideas. After checking VM further, it seemed to me the app is very thoughtfully designed.

Editing mode reveals the markdown syntax symbols I’ve used to write this review.

 

The same document handsomely rendered.

Features that appeal to me

  • Displays both internal and external folders and files in the navigator, so I can keep a Dropbox folder in which I can create text files on my Windows PC at work.
  • By default, files are displayed in rendered mode. Shifting to edit mode is easy. Among the methods, hover the cursor over the paragraph you want to begin editing and click while holding down command and be put into edit mode right in that paragraph.
  • The dedicated spark file. If you want to add something to it while you’re working in another file, just use control-s to save the current document and be shifted into the spark file with the date and time already inserted.
  • Rendered documents look great.
  • Markdown is pretty standard, although there are some extensions for executing special formatting, such as rendering columns in your document.
  • Select a folder and the documents contained within are rendered as preview cards.
  • Displays on demand the structure of your document based on the headings in a navigable list.

I’m not particularly technically inclined, but those who are will probably find VM chock full of useful and smart features.

Missing features

  • No iOS app. But this is not a big deal, because it is easy to find a markdown enabled editor for iOS which can read and edit files to share with VM.
  • Quick capture feature, to gather info from other sources.
  • No apparent tagging functionality. I’m not too concerned with this, but it would be nice for certain types of information.
  • There is no search function.
  • No typewriter mode.
  • Limited export options: HTML, Web Archive (don’t know what that is) and PDF.

Access an “outline” of your document’s headings.

The verdict

I am writing this review on Versatil Markdown. It is my favorite “Wordprocessing-style” markdown editor. What do I mean by that? Well, you wouldn’t expect Word to handle all the tasks that a note-manager like Evernote offers. That’s the deal with VM. It’s a very nice environment to write one document at a time, or longer documents (other than the missing typewriter mode). But it isn’t a long-term solution for managing lots and lots of notes, or a book with lots of sections or chapters. In other words, it isn’t a replacement for Ulysses at this point.

Markdown Editors and Note-Takers

Part one of the The Markdown Shakedown

I have been looking for a soft landing spot since I bailed out of the expensive Ulysses subscription scheme last summer. It hasn’t been easy. There are a lot of great markdown editors available, but none with the collection of functions found in Ulysses (yes, I don’t like the company, but I do admire their product). So anything I choose will be a compromise. I am writing this article as a way to come to understand my own requirements for a good markdown editor. That makes this list highly subjective. Your requirements will probably differ from mine.

Essential Attributes

Markdown

A few years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d require a markdown editor, but I’ve come to enjoy using a few symbols to style my writing. I don’t need a full-blown markdown editor, because I don’t need to create complex documents (if I do, I’ll use Scrivener or Mellel).

Excellent editor

I will need to be comfortable using the editor to write my notes and missives. Comfort is admittedly a very subjective quality. Mostly this means I don’t need to grope around the keyboard to execute styling or edit my text. Having a typewriter mode is also nice. I prefer not to be staring at the bottom of my computer screen when writing longer notes. Shifting between editing/writing and rendered modes should be quick.

Functional organization of notes

I like to organize my writing in folders or the quivalent. Allowing for nested folders is a plus. Tagging is not essential, but it is a helpful additional categorization for some projects and for note-taking.

iOS and Windows integration

“Integration” is a stronger word than I really mean. I want to be able to write notes on my Windows computer at work or via my iPad or iPhone and be able to find and edit them on my MacBook. Having native cross-platform sister applications is probably the best option here, but it also works if I can write in a plain text editor on the PC or iOS devevice and save to a common Dropbox folder.

Effective search capability

Finding notes again is crucial. The best solution will have a way to search across all documents, and present the results in a clear, easy to access way.

Versatile export options

Markdown is great for writing, but not so great for reading. So the editor must allow me to export my work to common document formats: .rft, .html, PDF and .docx. Other options would be nice, as well.

Attractive rendering

Related to the ability to export, rendering the markdown into an attractive style is really important to me. I want my text to look good. This means nice headings and bullets that fall into place and other elegant flourishes.

Easy switching from editing to viewing

As important as good rendering is, it isn’t any good if it isn’t easy to switch to editing mode or vice versa.

Continuing Development

If I’m going to choose a new, long-term solution for my writing and note-taking app, I want to be sure that it has a future. And that means I need to trust the developer will continue to support and improve it.

Desired Attributes

Tagging

I don’t like tagging as the primary organizational scheme, but it is nice to be able to tag certain notes to make them easier to find. Having tags, then, also requires a tag listing for quick access to related notes.

Folding, “Outlining”

Some markdown editors feature the ability to fold up text below headings. This is a nice way to focus on your structure or one section at a time. Alternatively, some of these apps show you an outline of your document based on the headings.

Date insertion

It seems like a simple thing, but I am amazed at how many apps leave out the ability to insert the date and/or the time into a document with a single click and simple stroke of keys. This is a very helpful function for taking notes that evolve.

Checklists

Being able to add a checklist to any document is a nice feature, but only if they are live checkmarks that can be ticked off with a click of the mouse.

A list of markdown editors

I’ve looked at a lot of these editors. Here is an almost complete list, because I’ve probably forgotten a few:

There is something to like about each of these apps, but none of them is the complete solution.

I plan to follow up with reviews of as many of these editors as I can manage.

The Archive, a new “slip box” for your notes

The Archive is a new note-taking app for MacOS. Its basic functionality will be familiar to you if you’ve ever used Notational Velocity or its more popular fork nvAlt. There’s an editor window on the right, a note list on the left and the “omnibar” on top. Type a string into the omnibar dialog box to search for notes, or to create a new one.

Slipbox methodology

The wrinkle with The Archive is that it is built on principles of the Zettelkasten method of note taking and management. Zettelkasten is German for “slipbox.” It was developed by Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist, who used index cards for his notes and needed a method of cross-referencing and connecting those notes. He would assign each individual card a unique number, which placed the card in a unique place in his file, and which could then be referenced in on other cards. Modern note-takers have adapted this method into digital systems, thus avoiding the drudgery of filing and refiling.

The Archive will automatically set a unique number to each note you create in the format of yearmonthdayhourminute that the note was first made. Call that the note ID. You can append a note title to provide a clue as to the content of the note. Together those will make up the file name of the note — each note is saved as a separate plain text file in the designated folder.

Thus The Archive facilitates the first important part of a Zettelkasten system — the unique ID. The app also facilitates to some extent the second part of the system, relating and linking notes. It does so with a quasi wiki-like approach. Putting the unique ID (or any search string) of the note you want to link to in double brackets makes that string clickable… and when you do, The Archive swings its omnibar into action searching your notes for that string and presenting the results in the note list. While not exactly a link, this method may actually be better. A link will take you to one and only one note, whereas this method will display all notes that meet your criteria. It will also show you other notes that link to the same material (since the search term will appear in those notes).

Markdown

If you are a fan of markdown, you’ll like The Archive’s editor, which makes use of the plain-text formatting scheme. While not in place as I write this, the developers plan full multimarkdown support in a forthcoming release. Applying the markdown results in a hybrid preview of the formatting — that is, text will be bolded or italicized, but the markdown characters will continue to be visible. There is no preview mode that shows the markdown rendered. There also is no support for exporting or printing your notes. However, you can set up an external editor in which to open and view your note. I’ve set up ByWord, from which I can easily print and export my notes.

I find it interesting that this early release of The Archive incorporates a typewriter mode with the editor, which centers your cursor on the screen, so you do not have to be typing at the bottom of the window constantly. This is a nice feature, but one that more often ends up being added later (for instance, Bear doesn’t yet have this feature). That the developers made it part of the initial release indicates to me their vision that The Archive is for writing notes, not just clipping information from elsewhere.

One feature The Archive desperately needs is backward and forward navigation buttons, so you can return quickly to the notes you’ve been viewing and working on.

Saved searches

I said earlier that The Archive has three elements: the editor, note list and omnibar. There is actually a fourth, the saved searches bar which resides just to left of the note list.

The Archive allows you to create saved searches for your notes, and access them through icons in the “saved searches” bar.

Final thoughts

The Arhive is not available on the App store. You have to purchase your license from the developers. It costs $20 through May 15. After that the price will go up. As it stands today, The Archive is a functional note-taking application focused on the writing of notes. I think $20 is a reasonable price for what you get, especially since the developers have further plans for developing version 1 (see the roadmap on their website).

Update: Christian Tietze, one of the co-authors of The Archive, recommends 1Writer as a companion app on iOS devices.

Agenda – date-centric notes

Agenda is a new, date-focused note taking app that gives a nice timeline view of your notes (this screen shot shows the sample data that comes with the app.)

I am intrigued by the new note-taking app, Agenda. I’ve been using it sporadically for the past month or so, but have been making a more concerted effort to try it out over the past couple of days. So far I’m mildly impressed. It has many thoughtful features and unique methods for accomplishing common note-taking tasks.

Date-centric Note Management?

The developer claims Agenda is a “date-focused note taking app for planning and documenting your projects.” This is true, but it seems to me to be the least original aspect of the program. Any journal app does the same thing, and MacJournal provides even more powerful meta-data and organization. Agenda is, however, a bit more nimble in how it handles dates. In fact, unless you specifically apply a date to a note, Agenda leaves the note date-neutral (I’m sure it keeps meta data about when the note was created and/or modified). You can assign a date to the note, but what that date is is up to you. It could be the date a meeting is set to take place. A task due date or a date to start working on a project. It can be a date in the future, or a date that happened already. Whatever is meaningful to the context of the note. You can also link a note to an event in your calendar — and when you open the event (the Mac calendar is the only one I’ve tried) you can click the link back to the Agenda note. I’m not sure yet if this will be useful to me.

Categories, Projects & Tags

Agenda has a pretty typical method for organizing notes in categories and “projects.” Projects can be anything that has associated notes. For example, I have a project for planning our upcoming vacation. I also have another one for Personnel Notes. Projects become folders for containing related notes. You cannot nest one project under another.

Agenda allows you to apply tags to individual paragraphs. You can also “tag” paragraphs with people.

Agenda supports linking, so you can apply some wiki concepts to your notes if need be.

On the Agenda

You can designate any note to be “On the Agenda.” You would do this with any note that needs more immediate attention. Then you can see all the items that need your attention regardless of which projects they may live in. There is also a view that shows you all the notes that have the current date.

Related Notes

On the right hand side of the window, you can open a “Related Notes” panel. Here you can see which calendar events you may have associated with the selected note, recently edited notes and notes “related” to the current note. Notes are related when they share dates, tags and people.

Editing Notes

A note taking application should be a good place to write your notes. You should be able to quickly capture ideas and comments, and then you should be able to easily edit those quick notes into ones that will mean something useful to you and your colleagues. The editor in Agenda gets a B minus in this regard at this point. It has some nice methods to format text. As the developers put it:

Agenda is a styled-text editor. Styled text combines the best of plain text and rich text. It is as easy to edit as plain text, but allows meaning to be added, leading to visually stunning documents without breaking a sweat.

Styling text is achieved through a click on the small bullet that appears at the start of each paragraph when you hover the cursor over a paragraph (see the screen shot below). From this popup menu you can assign paragraph styles and list styles (including creating checklists). You can also assign tags, people, indentation. To assign styling to individual words, you use the gear menu in the lower right corner of the note. You can access these text controls via the context menu when you right click inside the editor. If you want to apply a format to more than one paragraph at a time, you need to use the popup context menu.

The popup style menu appears when you hover the cursor over the paragraph you want to style and click the hollow bullet that appears.

So far, so good.

Where Agenda’s editor loses points is in these aspects:

  • You can’t change the font or the font size of the notes. This is a bit problematical, because the set font size is rather small. You better have good eyes or good glasses.
  • There is no typewriter setting, which keeps the line you’re working on vertically centered on the screen, so when writing longer notes, you are forced to point your eyes at the bottom of the screen.
  • You can’t open a note in a separate window in order to reference it while writing another note.

Free or Premium?

The developers say that Agenda is free to use forever. Premium featuares require purchase, but in a bit of a unique way. I’ll let them explain:

Agenda is free, with no time limits. You can use it forever, at no cost.

Agenda does offer extra premium features that require an In App Purchase. If you decide to purchase the upgrade, you permanently unlock all current features across all of your Macs. 

Even better, any features we add in the 12 months following your purchase are included, and permanently unlocked as well. All yours to keep.

The current premium features, which cost $25, are the following:

  • Saved searches
  • Copy and export in markdown format
  • Creating calendar events from within Agenda

The Bottom Line

I like the potential of Agenda. It is an elegant note-taking application. It is not a full-time solution for all my notes, and I don’t know if it ever will be. It isn’t a place to capture random thoughts or information. It isn’t really a diary app either, despite its date-focus. It lives somewhere between Evernote and DayOne. Does that make it superfluous? For some people, most definitely. But if you find yourself taking lots of notes for related subject areas, you may well find Agenda quite useful. The developers are still working out the kinks, and — as their payment scheme makes clear — they are incentivised to add new features yearly in order to get users to upgrade and keep their revenue flowing. So Agenda will evolve, and will become more powerful. I’ve been an early adopter because I want to support their efforts and see where they go.

One final note: As I write this, there is not a companion iOS app, but the developers say they are working on one and expect to release it the first half of this year.

Update: Agenda now features a way to enlarge the size of the text on the screen.

Our beautiful boy Angus

Our lovely cat Angus. Taken this morning.

One of the first things Amy and I did as a couple was adopt two kittens from a shelter called Animal Kind in Hudson, New York. Amy had just lost her cat, Norton, and though I tried to convince her to wait until she’d moved in with me in our small cabin in Vermont, she just needed to fill that void in her life. Amy wanted two cats because Norton had been killed by a car and she was determined that her next cats would be strictly indoor cats. Two cats could keep each other company when we weren’t home.

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Angus and Henry soon after we adopted them.

I was ambivalent about the cats. I had never had a cat as a pet and I feared they’d just be a nuisance. Amy named them Henry and Angus. They were not actually brothers, but they were close in age, maybe four to six weeks old. The two kittens lived with Amy at first, and so developed a close bond to her. Henry was somewhat social from the start, but Angus was shy. One night he disappeared and we didn’t know where he had gone. Eventually Amy found that he’d crawled into the back of the refrigerator. It would take  time for Angus to become comfortable around me, and he has never trusted strangers. We took to calling him Anguish.

About five months after adopting Henry and Angus, Amy moved north and brought our kittens with her. I saw the months ahead as me pretending to enjoy our pets when I was really just tolerating them for Amy’s sake. But one day I arrived home before Amy, as was the case then as she had a long commute. I walked in the door and Angus was waiting for me. He began to squirm on his back like he was actually excited to see me. I scratched his fuzzy belly and fell in love with him that day.

It’s been almost 10 years since the cats moved in. I don’t believe there has been a day when I haven’t been delighted with the two of them, but especially with Angus. He is continually surprising me and charming me and manipulating me. Our bathroom door has to be pushed hard for it to actually latch, so it usually isn’t. Angus learned that he could push the door open with his paw. You might think it is annoying to have a cat destroy your privacy, but it never has been. We called Angus’ ability to enter the bathroom through a closed door his super power, and we never latch the door, because that would be his kryptonite.

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We live next door to my parents. Our ritual is to go over at 7:00 p.m. to watch Jeopardy with them and to bring my father coffee. On our walk back across our front yard, we would often see Angus on his cat tower in the picture window craning his neck to watch us come home.

Angus does not like to be picked up, but he likes to crawl into Amy’s lap on the sofa. When Amy isn’t home, he’ll often leap onto the armrest to my left and snuggle up on my shoulder. Mashing his soft, furry head into my face is part of this ritual, because he likes to have his forehead kissed. When the three of us are together on the sofa and I get up, Angus almost always slides into my spot. He’ll look at me when I come back from whatever got me up as if to dare me to move him. But then he slides over as soon as I start to sit down. He also likes jumping onto my spot on the bed when I am brushing my teeth before turning in. I kiss his head, and pet him, and then he’ll make way for me.

I will often find myself busily doing something in the kitchen only to feel eyes on me. I’ll turn around and find Angus looking at me from around the corner of the counter. That’s his way: coyly watching us from around the bend.

When Henry developed diabetes, Angus was our rock. We called him our champion because he didn’t get sick. Angus has the most beautiful fur. Stroking him is like stroking a rabbit. His fur has streaks of orange. Surprisingly, he smells nice, like the out of doors, even though we don’t let him outside. Amy came to call him Booboo, because he is much smaller than Henry, and because he is our baby.

I call him my best buddy. And why not? He makes me feel happy. He helps ease my daily tensions. I feel good when I’m with him. Amy and I talk about how much we look forward to seeing both our cats when we’re driving home after work. They have no agenda except requesting treats, which Angus can be quite vocal about (sometimes we call him Nagus).

About three weeks ago, we woke on a Sunday morning to find Angus sheepishly limping around, favoring his right rear leg. The next day, when it hadn’t improved, Amy brought him to the vet, who took an x-ray and determined Angus’ femur was fractured. First the vet put a splint on it and then two days later a cast. The little guy looks so awkward navigating the house with his blocky leg. There is no traction at the bottom of the cast, so when he is on the wooden floors or the linoleum, the leg just slides out from under him. He does better on the carpet, yet it is still somewhat unwieldy for him.

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Angus with his awkward cast.

But he gets around, jumping and dragging himself up onto the sofa and even the taller bed. We were looking forward, however, to the day he could get the cast off and go back to his old self.

Last Wednesday, two weeks after the cast was put on, Amy brought him in for a second x-ray to see how the leg was healing. Well it wasn’t, and the doctor worried that Angus might have bone cancer. Two days later a radiologist confirmed the diagnosis and the vet told us our beautiful little boy doesn’t have long to live.

I am heart-broken. Since getting the news I have cried a lot. At work I wear my reading glasses in the office so my colleagues won’t notice my tears.

For a decade, Angus has been our constant companion. His presence enlivens our home and our lives in ways that stop making sense when I try to describe them. There are so many tangible ways he will be missed. I imagine never having him intrude on me in the bathroom again; never waiting for us to return from next door, never stealing my seat again. Worst of all, I know I’m going to feel watched, turn expecting to see his large eyes staring at me, and he won’t be there.

But there are also intangibles that will leave an even bigger hole when he is gone. Our house will be less of a home without him, like some sinister force has ripped an exterior wall away and exposed us to the rush of cold air.

As I write this Angus seems pretty much himself, other than the bulky cast. He hobbles around, and I want to cry when I think that our brave little boy is coping with his broken leg unaware that he has a cancer time-bomb ticking inside him.

If you’ve read this whole post, you’ll get the idea that we have lots of names for our dear pet. And I haven’t even written about some of the more outlandish ones. His infectious personality inspires all these names. But I continue to call him Angus frequently. It’s a dignified, solid name that he deserves.

Angus has a strong personality, proud and stubborn. His world was small — the interior of our home — but it was his oyster. Early on, Amy and I agreed that it was funny that the smallest member of our household was also the one who seemed to be in control. I hate the thought that this little force of nature will soon be extinguished and other than in Amy’s and my hearts he will have left no trace of his existence. That is why I am writing this celebration of his life, and why I am grateful that you have taken the time to read it. Thank you.

We’ve decided not to take any invasive measures. We want Angus’s final days to be filled with as much love and comfort as we are able to give him, not the trauma that would come with futilely attempting a cure. He deserves the best we can do for him at the end, because he has given us immeasurable joy over the past ten years. I hope he senses how much we love him.

And we are cherishing every moment we can spend with him.

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