Category Archives: E-style

A Markdown Primer

Markdown is a simple way to include formatting options in plain text files. If you’re wondering why this is useful or even important, take a look at this article on Markdown as an archival standard. For me, Markdown has been fun to play with, but I’m finally seeing some very practical solutions. First, there’s the new Day One blogging feature that let’s me quickly and easily send a journal entry to my Day One blog. A few days ago, Dick Eastman mentioned a new Dropbox collaboration feature developed using a service called Sitedrop. When I checked it out, I noticed there were a number of files using the .md file extension meaning they were Markdown files. When I opened one, I was presented with a “web” page.


Although I’m getting pretty good at writing (typing) on my iPad, trying to include even the simplest HTML tags in a blog post is a nightmare. supports Markdown for both posts and comments. You’ll find checkboxes in Settings (Writing and Discussion panels) to turn on Markdown. Once activated, you can use it when posting from the WordPress mobile app as well as your desktop browser.

To get started, go find a good Markdown reference (or two) and add them to your Help Desk notebook in Evernote. A quick look shows you how easy it is to use – it’s just a matter of getting in the habit.

WordPress Markdown reference:
Day One Markdown reference:

Here’s a look at Markdown in a Day One journal entry. In the editor screen you can see the Markdown code hardly impacts the readability of the text (remember it’s still just plain text), but in the reading screen Day One has done the conversion to display formatted text. The journal entry is saved as marked up plain text and converted on the fly for whichever purpose you’ve selected – view, export to PDF or publish to blog. You’ll note that the hashtag in front of the Experiments heading didn’t convert. That’s because I didn’t put a space between it and the text. My bad.

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If you’re a “touch typist” you may even find it easier to use Markdown to format text since you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard to do it. It’s a whole lot easier to add two asterisks before and after text you want bolded than it is to stop, grab the mouse, select the text, click on the bold button then click again to put the cursor back where you left off. However, there is one thing I’ll still do the “standard” way – especially in WordPress – inserting images. I’m still going to have to go through the process of uploading the image so clicking a few options and the insert button is just as easy.

Markdown may not make a big difference here at the Gazette – especially on articles full of examples and other techy things – but I do see it becoming very useful on my personal blogs and in my journaling. Here I’m capturing moments and writing personal stories. Quite often I’m doing this on a mobile device – either my iPhone or iPad. Until now, I would often just add some quick notes and wait until I got to my desktop to write a “proper” story. I still don’t see myself “typing” a thousand-word missive on my iPhone, but that could happen on my iPad – especially with a bluetooth keyboard.

I’m using WordPress and Day One as examples because these platforms are where I spend a lot of my time. There are a growing number of apps and platforms supporting Markdown so this is a topic that won’t be going away anytime soon.


Spell-Check is not enough

Whether you’re writing a family history, documenting your research with a blog or creating a family newsletter, you are working as writer, copy editor and publisher. You, the copy editor, need to include plenty of time for proof-reading. Potential problems include:

  • Your spell-checker can do a lot, but it won’t flag you when you typed “fart” and you meant to type “raft”. And, it doesn’t know if you meant “their”, “there” or “they’re”.
  • In addition to typos and grammar issues, you need to insure all your links work – and that they go to the right web pages.
  • Even if you copy/pasted content from another document, check it too. It’s possible you didn’t pick up the first letter or that last period when you made your selection.
  • Speaking of copy/pasting content . . . When copying from a word processing application, you may be copying formatting commands that your blog/email program can’t understand. Often it will try to present that information as text and you may well end up with some very strange characters sprinkled throughout your content.
  • It’s a good idea to proof twice – first within whatever editor you are using and second using your blog’s preview function to see what it will look like once it’s published. This will help insure that images are sized and positioned correctly and that none of those strange characters are trashing your story.

One thing I have learned – the hard way – is that I tend to quickly scan text when I read. I have taken to reading my content aloud when I’m proof-reading since it forces me to look at each word. The dogs are fascinated with my elegant prose while my husband just shakes his head and moves on.

For more good tips on proof-reading content for digital publishing, take a look at the Yahoo! Style Guide. You can visit the online edition or you can keep a print or Kindle copy nearby at all times.

Online Editing 101

We all know that writing for the Web is different. People read web content differently than they do books and our writing must adjust accordingly. That doesn’t mean we leave the grammar and composition lessons behind. Far from it! Grammar and style are just as important as they ever were. There’s just a lot more competition for your reader’s eye when viewing a blog page and you need to organize your writing to help keep them focused on what you have to say.

Studies have shown that most readers’ eyes follow a triangular pattern across and down a web page beginning at the top left of the screen. These eye-tracking studies tell us we have to grab our reader’s interest at the beginning of our post in order to keep them reading. Most online readers scan first, looking for relevant words, phrases and images. Do you get to the point of your article right away? Do you use headings to identify topics within your article? These items will help your readers determine if your article is something they want to read.

Another thing that makes online writing different is that you aren’t just writing for human readers. You also have machines reading your copy. Huh? Search engines have been programmed to look for keywords and topics to help categorize your article so it can be found when a potential reader types the appropriate search term into his search box. How does a search engine do this? Your post titles, categories and tags all help, but your use of HTML within your article not only formats your words to look good but tells the search engines that these words or phrases are important.

Styles selector in the WordPress editor.

Styles selector in the WordPress editor.

Using styles to define the formatting of your content is a quick and easy way to maintain consistency within an article. Here you see the styles selector in the WordPress editor toolbar. These style tags also identify headings and sub-headings to the search engines as important content. The HTML specification supports six levels of headings. While we have often just used these levels to identify six different kinds of formatting, it’s important to remember that the machines and programs distributing and searching our content see them as levels of importance. Use your heading styles to present the organizational hierarchy of the content first and as formatting styles second.

In addition to headings, search engines will look for lists – bulleted and numbered – for important content. Lists are also useful for catching that scanning human eye because it gets your points out front where they can been seen.

One other thing that will make your readers’ experience better is consistency. Are you using consistent formats for presenting dates, phone numbers and units of measure? How about capitalization and abbreviations? Your machine readers will see St. Augustine and Saint Augustine as two different places and may not connect that it is an important term because it has been repeated. Consistency tells your human readers that you are a writer who is serious about every detail – someone worth reading.

If you’d like to learn more about editing web content, visit the Editing 101 section of the online Yahoo! Style Guide. Better yet, grab your own copy of The Book. It’s available in both paper and ebook editions.

Blog From Your Journal

Blogging is an easy and affordable way to document your family history and the efforts taken to discover it. Blogging makes it easy to discover research cousins and has had a significant role in building the online genealogy community that connects so many of us today. And blogging is fun.


Bloggers are dependent on the platforms they use to build their blogs. As we learned last year with the Posterous shutdown, that one fact can quickly turn blogging into a nightmare.

Fortunately we have options. One very good option is to take advantage of the growing number of journaling apps that support blog publishing. Day One just announced its first steps into publishing, but there are other apps that have been doing it for some time. Two good examples are Mariner Software’s MacJournal [$33.24 at Amazon] and WinJournal [$30 at Amazon]. With these apps, you can write your articles on your desktop – complete with photos and other attachments – then publish a copy to your blog.

Setting up a WordPress blog in MacJournal.

Setting up a WordPress blog in MacJournal.

Both journal apps allow you to create multiple journals within the interface so I one have specifically for blog articles. That journal has also been set up to connect to my blog. Most blog platforms support attached files (like photos) but for those that don’t (Tumblr, for example), you have the option to set up an alternate location to upload those attachments. In the example above, you see the configuration panel for connecting to a blog – in this case a WordPress blog. Once the connection is accepted, the panel you see on the right appears, showing me the categories set up in this blog.

Now you just start writing your blog post as if it was any other journal entry in MacJournal. Once it’s ready to publish, click on the Share menu and you’ll see a menu item to Send to (your blog’s name). The options panel appears next. The options you’ll see depend on which blog platform you use. In the example below, I’m posting to WordPress so my options include the ability to choose a category for this blog. Make your selections, then click OK to send this entry to your blog.

MacJournal Publishing

I usually uncheck the Publish post immediately option so the article will be sent to my blog as a draft. This will allow me to review the article, add tags, configure social networking connections and schedule when I want the article to appear on my blog.

MacJournal also has apps for the iPhone [$4.99] and iPad [$5.99] which support blogging. The iPad version offers a lot more flexibility with WordPress blogs and has a feature to download entries from your blog to the app. Oh, and both iOS MacJournal apps support both Dropbox and iCloud as storage for your journal files. These downloaded entries are text only, but they do show where images and other embeds have been positioned within the post.

Yes, there are other desktop editors for blogging, but because family history blogging is already a very personal activity it just seems fit that a journaling app is the place to create them.

eBook Updates

One of the really delightful things about ebooks is that they can be easily updated. This is especially useful in two of my favorite categories – family history and technology. One thing that really irritated me about technology books is that I paid a lot of money for a book that was basically obsolete before I got it home. And, when the technology improved, an updated version of the book would be published – just waiting for me to fork out even more money.

The first dent in that little monopoly was made by Safari Books Online – a subscription reading service for (mostly) tech books. For a monthly fee, you had access to a huge library of tech books – with a search engine that could not only find the book you needed, but the chapter and paragraph containing the information you wanted. Even better, my employer was paying for it!

But then I retired.

As a dedicated WordPress fan, I was delighted to discover the guys at Digging Into WordPress and the PDF edition of their book with lifetime updates. For more than two years I’ve been downloading updated versions of the book full of all the latest WordPress goodness.

That was my first good ebook investment, but not the only one. I have the iBooks edition of David Sparks’ Paperless which just released an impressive update to include the latest apps and services. This book was created with iBooks Author so it’s got lots of video clips demonstrating the apps and workflows discussed in the text. It was so good, I bought his Email book too!

Kindle authors also have the ability to update their titles and pass those updates on to their readers. Until recently, that didn’t happen too often, but I’m now finding update notices appearing more frequently. That’s a good sign! If you see the updates banner at the top of your Kindle library screen, just select the Available for Update view to display the titles that have updates. Click the Updates link and Kindle takes care of the rest.

KindleUpdatesWhile this discussion has been focused on technology books from a reader’s perspective, it’s also a reminder to the family history author that your publishing efforts don’t have to stop when that book is published. When new research adds to the story, update your original manuscript and follow the update procedures at your publishing service(s). It’s almost as easy for you to upload an update to your book as it is for your readers to download the updated version.

Whether you’re just beginning a publishing project or already published, the ability to update your ebook is an option to incorporate in your overall publishing plan. Your readers will love you for it.


Evernote Tip: Batch Editing Notes

I’m not sure why January is the month that everyone – especially retailers – focuses on getting organized. Maybe it’s the “fresh start” each new year represents. Whatever its cause, I’ve definitely got the bug. And the area that’s getting most of my attention is my Evernote notes. The cold days of winter are a good time to review, organize, prune and archive my notes. Fortunately, Evernote has some great batch editing capabilities to make this effort a lot easier.

Evernote Batch Editing

Evernote batch editing on a Mac desktop

You select notes just like you do anything else on your computer (CTRL+click on Windows, Cmd+click on Mac) then choose the editing option you need in the right-hand pane. From there, you can do the following things to your selected notes:

  • add tags
  • move them all to a different notebook
  • email the selected notes
  • merge them into one note
  • save all the attachments within the selected notes to your computer
  • copy the links to each of the selected notes and create a table of contents note.

I’ve found the table of contents note very useful. I have a Help Desk notebook that’s shared with family members. [Note: If you are your family's tech support desk, having one of these can save you lots of grief!] I’ve used the table of contents note to make it easier for them to find help on specific topics or apps.

Did you notice the Start Presentation button? This is only available to Premium users on a Mac desktop. It’s very cool, but I seldom present from a computer so not so useful for me. MacBook user/presenters could find it very handy.

Thanks to Evernote’s batch features and a recent frosty afternoon that kept me close to the warm air vent, I was able to streamline the number of notebooks I maintain by consolidating them into major topics and letting tags and smart searches do the rest. But that’s a story for another day . . .

Have Your Fonts and Present Them Too

One of the most irritating things about presentation software (Keynote and PowerPoint both) is that trying to move a presentation to a different computer can be a nightmare – especially with fonts. If those fonts don’t reside on the new system, your software will select what it thinks are appropriate replacements from the fonts installed on the new computer. Either you limit your presentations to the few basic fonts found on most systems or you develop your own work arounds. Since I’m a font fanatic, I’ve taken the work-around route.

Beyond Bullet Points

As you can see from this example, I’m not a big fan of bullet points in my presentation graphics. I learned a long time ago that great graphics would be remembered much longer than a screen full of text. And, when I do include text, it’s an important design element. Fonts help make that happen. So, I have to make sure those fonts travel with the presentation.

I have Keynote on my iPad and prefer to use it for presenting so it’s limited number of fonts was a pain until I stumbled onto this work-around. Today, I create most of my presentations on my Mac. That’s where all the good fonts are. Once I’ve built a presentation and everything’s just right, I’ll export the slides as images then create a new presentation inserting those images – one per slide. This serves two purposes. First, I can now “take” those fonts with me and second, it reduces the size of my presentation – especially those slides with multiple layers of graphics, photos and text.  And, I still have the working copy of the presentation should I need to make changes.


Yes, this does mean I can’t take advantage of Keynote’s actions feature on text elements but I never did use them much in presentations. (I do love them for making cards though.) I can still include multimedia elements – like a video – on a slide. It just takes a bit more effort. And, since I can now present from my iPad mini – which is a lot lighter than a laptop – it’s worth that effort.

Build an Heirloom Family Cookbook with Evernote

When you combine Evernote’s ability to capture just about anything with its shared folder option, you have a great platform to create a family cookbook – not just to share interesting current recipes but to also share your heirloom recipes too. By putting your scanner and smart phone to work with your Evernote account, you can capture hand-written recipe cards and even capture the notes added to recipes in old family cookbooks.

A recipe card scanned to Evernote.

A recipe card scanned to Evernote.

As you can see in this example, the beauty of this is that you can scan or photograph the recipe in its original state, add tags to help find it – along with recipes of its kind – in your Evernote cookbook notebook, and even add notes to establish provenance. And, with Evernote on your tablet, you can have those recipes on the kitchen counter while you create the dish. 

Since I also use the Evernote Food app to capture interesting recipes I find online and in magazines, I already have a Cookbook notebook in my Evernote account. This is where both the Evernote Food recipes and the ones I scan/save via Evernote are kept. Although not shown in the example above, I’m now adding an “heirloom” tag to make it easier to display just them.

Share your Cookbook notebook just as you would any other Evernote notebook – with one caveat. In order for each member of the share group to add their own recipes, that folder will need to be shared by someone with a Premium account. Otherwise, the folder will be read-only to all but the folder’s owner.

In my family, I started by sharing my Cookbook notebook with the rest of the “girls” in the family and it quickly became a hit. It’s so easy to grab recipes from online sources that even the more digitally-challenged members quickly got the hang of it. Now I’m slowly adding heirloom recipes to the mix. It’s generating lots of questions asking how I did that and it doesn’t take long to show them how to use their phone’s camera to capture their own recipes. Once they get comfortable with that, we’ll start working on scanning. So far, things are looking pretty good . . .

InstaWalk? Sounds like fun!

As I watched this, my first thought was that this would be a great way to share the fun at a genealogy conference with those who can’t come. It would also be a great way to add a little extra spice to a public holiday function – like the local Christmas parade or caroling night . . . What do you think?

Christmas Cards for the 21st Century

There’s a new breed of greeting cards offering both digital and print options for sharing. I have reached a point where most of my Christmas cards are now electronic, but there are still a number of people on my list who don’t use computers. So, I’m delighted to see companies like Sincerely and Paperless Post offering beautiful print cards which are selected, customized and addressed digitally to be sent as postal mail. Sincerely’s Ink holiday postcards let you choose from a number of designs that incorporate your own photograph and even have room to add your own note. You can create a custom card/greeting for each recipient or use one for all – pulling your addresses right from your digital address book. Sincerely will print and mail them for you for approximately $1.00 per card.

ink cards

Ink cards are created using the free Ink app on your mobile device [iOS and Android]. Learn more at the Ink site.

Paperless Post creates e-cards as well as print ones and they also offer an impressive digital invitation/RSVP system. These cards offer both standard greetings and those designed to incorporate your photograph. The e-cards include envelopes and give you the opportunity to choose their design as well as the card’s. Prices are based on type and design.

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Experience an online card at Paperless Post. Paperless Post cards can be designed and tracked online or in the free iPad app.