Start a Writing Project with Ulysses

Ulysses [Mac – $49.99, iOS – $19.99] is an impressive writing platform yet quite easy to master. Instead of creating individual files for each story element, it creates a library package for your writing projects – much like the library used to manage photos in iPhotos. When a project package is saved in iCloud and you have the companion iPad app, you can easily write just about anywhere.

Another thing Ulysses does to keep you focused on writing is reduce your formatting options to a minimum. Sure you can assign text as headings, include block quotes, images, bulleted or numbered lists and citations, but you aren’t concerned with font choices or pages sizes – things that distract you from writing. Those are dealt with when you export your finished project to the format (or formats) you choose.

The project setup is really quite simple. Content is organized into groups and sheets – the library equivalent of folders and files. Ulysses supports groups and sub-groups and gives you the ability to reorganize them any time you wish.

The example above shows my Future of Memories project – currently displaying all three panels as they appear on my iPad. At the left is the library panel showing the groups and sub-groups I currently have in this project. There are two major sub-groups: Research and Manuscript. The Research group contains sub-groups for my notes and reminders of the things I need to do. What you see now is the early stages of the project. Before this manuscript is ready for export, I imagine both the Research and Manuscript groups will look quite different.

The center panel displays the sheets contained in the selected group – Front Matter in this example. It gives you a preview of each sheet’s content. At the far right is the editing panel displaying the sheet selected in the Sheets panel. All I have to do is swipe left to push the Groups and Sheets panels off the screen so I can focus on writing.

Here I have the editor panel filling my iPad’s screen. Note the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. In this example, I am using an external keyboard so the toolbar appears at the bottom of the screen. If I was using the on-screen keyboard, the toolbar would “sit” just above it. Notice that Ulysses is using Markdown for formatting. You have the option to use the toolbar to insert these commands or type them yourself. I find it easier to type the hashtags for headers or asterisks for bold/italics so I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard. Ulysses gives me the option to work the way I find most comfortable.


Did you notice the Edit option at the bottom of the group panel in the figure at the top of this article? Tap it and a column of drag buttons appear to the right of each group (the boxes with three horizontal lines shown in the figure above). To move a group to a different location in your manuscript, tap and hold the drag box for the item you want to move. When the box pops out, drag it to the location you want and release. It will move the group and any sub-groups to that point. So, if I tap and hold the drag box to the right of the Blogging group and drag it on top of the Journaling group, it will move and the Platforms and Project Ideas sub-groups will move with it.

At any time you can export a sheet, group or your entire manuscript to a number of formats. These include HTML, ePub, PDF and RTF. All you do is tap to select the group you want to export and swipe left to display the More button. Use the “buttons” at the top of the screen to select the format you want and within seconds it will appear on the screen. The gear icon just below those buttons is used to select a style template. In addition to the ones included with the app, you’ll find a growing library of style “sheets” at the Ulysses web site which can be downloaded and imported into your Ulysses app.

Next, tap the Open In item and move your manuscript to the app/platform of your choice. Yes, it really is that easy. When creating an ePub export, you are prompted to enter title, author and cover art. The ePub export does generate a very nice table of contents too.

Ulysses is an impressive writing platform and quite easy to master. It’s use of Markdown combined with a growing number of export options means my work will survive changes in technology. For me, it’s easier and less distracting than Scrivener, but it’s research support is limited to text and images. At the moment I’m maintaining projects in both platforms, but something tells me that Ulysses will soon be my writing environment of choice.



21st Century Journaling

Having even a transcription of an ancestor’s personal journal is a blessing to any family historian. It gives us a picture of the person and the world surrounding him that no amount of vital records can provide. Should we also have letters and photos along with the journal, ecstasy ensues.

Day One for Mac – capturing the stories behind special Christmas decorations.

Considering how precious we find these gifts from the past, what gifts are you leaving your future generations. Today’s technology allows us to easily capture not only words and photos, but also audio and video. And, since so many of us are carrying camera phones with us at all times, there’s no excuse for missing the magic moments in our family’s lives. The iPhone, iPod Touch and many Android phones include cameras that shoot both photos and video and there are many journaling apps available to capture and preserve the events of our lives – both the normal and the special ones.


We are already sharing much of these events as status updates, photos and videos posted to Facebook. I recently stumbled upon a review of an iPhone app [Momento – $1.99] that not only allowed you to enter your thoughts and feelings along with photos taken on your iPhone, but you can also connect it to your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Swarm – Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo and LastFM coming soon) to automatically pull in your status/activity there. My first thought was this was carrying things a bit far, but I quickly realized the merits of the idea. In today’s busy world, the less duplication of effort involved in documenting our days, the more likely it is we’ll actually do it. And, having an app like this on a small device that’s always nearby means we’ll be able to capture the sights and sounds of those moments.

IMG_0045Several journal apps also have desktop versions allowing us to synchronize and archive journaling content safely. I have Day One [iOS – $4.99 & Mac – $9.99]. I use it on my iPhone to capture moments as they happen and on my Mac to write longer articles documenting my family – past and present. All those entries are maintained together – arranged by date. Day One also offers a tagging capability which can be used to select, display and even print selected entries.

Today’s digital journals may not be as attractive as the leather-bound journals of old, but they will capture a much broader picture of our lives. A journal is a personal thing and the first step is finding a journal app that fits your style. It might be a desktop app or even a “notebook” on your mobile device. Whatever it is, it will become a treasure for future generations. You just need to get started!

 Reposted with permission from Moultrie Creek Gazette.

Blogging from Byword

It’s fascinating to watch how quickly tech is moving away from the desktop. It is taking me longer to incorporate the new functions and apps into my workflows that it took the developers to create them.

Right now I writing this post on my iPad using the Byword [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99] text editing app. It supports Markdown which makes it a lot easier to incorporate HTML code in the article for formatting and including links. If you’re spending more time on your iThings than your desktop, Byword can be very useful.

In order to publish to a blog site, you’ll need to add the Publish option – a $4.99 in-app purchase. With it you can publish your Byword notes to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Evernote and Scriptogram.

Mobile Genealogy

Lately I’ve found I’m spending more and more research time on my iPad. There are two reasons for this – Evernote and MobileFamilyTree [iOS – $14.99]. MobileFamilyTree has a companion app for the desktop called MacFamilyTree [Mac – $49.99] but although both can use the same database when it’s stored on iCloud, the mobile app is entirely independent of the desktop version. I believe at the moment, it’s the only mobile iOS app that is. Another advantage is that both versions can synch family tree data with

Mobile Family Tree person page

One thing I love about both the Mac and Mobile editions is that I can view and edit all of a person’s detail information on one screen without constantly opening and closing data boxes. That is so irritating.

Same person page in MacFamilyTree

Even with MobileFamilyTree’s synching capability, I still prefer to do most of my FamilySearching via web browser. Why? so I can capture source information and download record image files into Evernote. I’ve found the Dolphin Browser [iPad – free] has a much better Evernote capture interface than the Safari browser on the iPad. It works much like the Web Clipper installed on my desktop Safari.

Granted, the iPad is not the best platform for bouncing around between web sites and apps – something I tend to do a lot. My solution is to take written notes. Sure that slows me down, but I’m finding that’s actually a good thing. Writing those notes instead of copy/pasting or clipping them makes me think about them more – more time to consider what this record adds to my research. At the end of a session, I’ll use Evernote on my iPad to photograph those notes so they can easily be found again when I need them. So far, I’ve had very good luck with Evernote’s search engine “reading” my handwriting.

What’s the down side? Trying to read original documents – especially census records – on my iPad mini’s small screen. Sure I can zoom into a document so I can see the content, but when I do it’s displaying such a small bit of screen area that I’m scrolling all over the place trying to see all the information. That gets real tedious real fast.

Am I ready to give up my desktop? Not even. I do find that developing mobile research skills and workflows at home has significantly improved my efforts when researching at the library. Since I’m planning a couple of research trips, these skills can become even more useful when I have a limited amount of time in a distant archive.

That being said, I do see where the iPad could become a primary research tool – especially for seniors who never used a computer but have found the iPad quite useful. Platforms like and seem to be making it easy to get them started and I expect that’s a trend that will continue to grow.