The new year is upon us. Although I'm not much for resolutions (with the occasional exception), this is a time when many people dedicate themselves to improving their lives over the coming months. If you're casting about for resolutions that can boost your productivity, I'd like to suggest learning (or brushing up on) four key skills. They all involve working with text and each of them will benefit almost any Mac user (and, for that matter, almost any computer user, period).
Write in Markdown
If your work involves writing of almost any kind — blog posts, articles, books, or even academic papers — a couple of hours spent learning the basics of Markdown will pay huge dividends. Many major publications (including Macworld) and blogging platforms (including WordPress) support this powerful yet lightweight method of text formatting. You mark up plain text files using simple tags (which are much friendlier and more readable than HTML), and then a behind-the-scenes converter can render that text as a fully formatted document in HTML, PDF, EPUB, or other format.
For example, if you wanted to insert a clickable link using raw HTML, you'd have to do it like this:
But in Markdown, it's much simpler:
In all likelihood you'll quickly get the gist of Markdown just by looking at Markdown creator John Gruber's Markdown page, but you may find it more fun to use the interactive Markdown Tutorial website instead.
The beauty of Markdown is that because it's based on plain text, you can use virtually any word processor or text editor, on any platform, to write and edit — without sacrificing the richness of full formatting in the final product. I generally work in unadorned Markdown using BBEdit or Nisus Writer Pro, but if you want extra bells and whistles — such as a live preview of the formatted output, shortcuts for adding tags, or syntax coloring — you can find innumerable Markdown editors and utilities in the Mac or iOS App Store. A few examples of highly-rated Markdown apps are Brett Terpstra's Marked 2 (OS X; 5.0 mice, $12), Information Architects' iA Writer for OS X (4.0 mice, $9) and iOS (3.5 mice, $1), and omz:software's Editorial (iOS; 5.0 mice, $5).
You're bound to encounter numerous variants of John Gruber's original Markdown specification that add features not supported in the original (such as tables, footnotes, and definition lists) or follow stricter interpretation rules. But the core features are pretty much the same in every implementation, and once you know the basics, you can easily adapt to alternative versions if the need arises.
Use regular expressions
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