So, Dave has a nice template for showing essay-length writing.

And naturally, the way things are evolving in 2015, it’s a “single-page web-app” which can pull in the actual content from another URL.

Of course, I’d like to write essays using an outliner. And I’m using OWL which is really just the Concord editor that saves files in OPML. But myword.io has a new custom JSON format for its input (that also seems to allow Markdown).

So here’s the question : what’s the story for converting an outline to an essay? Is myword going to evolve to import OPML directly? Is the myword JSON format going to become a standard? How should OPML turn into myword documents?

In one sense it’s easy. You can always just flatten OPML and dump it to a raw text file. Perhaps with some indentation based on outline depth. (Although that might fight the Markdown.)

Or are there plans to represent any structure in the essay (sections, section headings etc.) with structure in the OPML? Is there a project to work on this? Or thoughts on a standard that I could start to support?

Obviously I have a couple of my own solutions in this area : GeekWeaver and bootdown. But if there are any emerging standards / conventions planned, then I’m up for supporting them. Both GeekWeaver and BootDown are useful, but they’re both rather old-skool command-line Python scripts which don’t necessarily fit into the workflow of many people in 2015.

Update : Dave replied :

It is what it is.

I have no plans at this time to do anything with it.

I might swing back around to this, or not.

MyWord is MIT Licensed, so if you really want it, you can do it.

OK. So right now, I’ll probably just do a flat export of text written in OPML and a quick JSON wrapper. And then think further. As this ties into questions about GeekWeaver, the future of some of my Python code base (as opposed to moving more into the browser)

Dave also points to his code :

Here’s the code I added to Fargo to generate the myword.io JSON.

https://gist.github.com/scripting/2a612b0e2cbb7077482a

As you can see, there ain’t much there! 🙂

Still. Very useful.

How is OWL looking these days? Here are a couple of screenshots :

OWLdroid

OWLdroid Feb 2014
OWLdroid Feb 2014
Note that I’ve moved the navbar of OWL into the space which Bootstrap usually uses for the main menu. This is a big win in terms of space, and the fact that it’s now always visible, even when scrolling down long pages. I’m not sure, yet, how this will work on smaller / phone-sized screens.

OWL on Laptop (Firefox on Linux)

OWL screenshot (Firefox on Linux)
OWL screenshot (Firefox on Linux)

There’s a big fix for OWL today. There were some mysterious times when pages that I thought I was changing were getting reverted. I thought originally that this was a glitch from me btsync-ing between my laptop and tablet. Or maybe my attempts at doing background synchronization between the browser localStorage and the server were failing.

Nothing seemed to completely eliminate this intermittent problem. But today I realized it was much simpler. I was basically using web.py’s “static” file serving to pull the OPML files off the server into Concord. But “static” is meant for static files (doh!). The browser was caching them. (Maybe because of some header web.py was putting out.) Anyway, I just changed the server to reading the files into memory and spitting their contents out, just like any other dynamic web-page, and the problem looks like it’s gone away.

I’ll keep an eye out, but I think that was it.

My software is more or less like Cthulhu. Normally dead and at the bottom of the sea, but occasionally stirring and throwing out a languid tentacle to drive men’s minds insane. (Or at least perturb a couple of more recklessly adventurous users.)

However there’s been a bit more bubbling agitation down in R’lyeh recently. The latest weird dream returning to trouble the world is GeekWeaver, the outline based templating language I wrote several years ago.

GeekWeaver was basically driven by two things : my interest in the OPML Editor outliner, and a need I had to create flat HTML file documentation. While the idea was strong, after the basic draft was released, it languished. 

Partly because I shifted from Windows to Linux where the OPML Editor just wasn’t such a pleasurable experience. Partly because GW’s strength is really in having a templating language when you don’t have a web server; but I moved on to doing a lot of web-server based projects where that wasn’t an issue. And partly, it got led astray – spiralling way out of control – by my desire to recreate the more sophisticated aspects of Lisp, with all kinds of closures, macros, recursion etc.

I ended up assuming that the whole enterprise had got horribly crufty and complicated and was an evolutionary dead end.

But suddenly it’s 2013, I went to have quick look at GeekWeaver, and I really think it’s worth taking seriously again.

Here are the three reasons why GeekWeaver is very much back in 2013 :

Fargo

Most obviously, Dave Winer has also been doing a refresh of his whole outlining vision with the excellent browser-based Fargo editor. Fargo is an up-to-date, no-comprise, easy to use online OPML Editor. But particularly important, it uses Dropbox to sync. outlines with your local file-system. That makes it practical to install GeekWeaver on your machine and compile outlines that you work on in Fargo.

I typically create a working directory on my machine with a symbolic link to the OPML file which is in the Fargo subdirectory in Dropbox and the fact that the editor is remote is hardly noticable (maybe a couple of seconds lag between finishing an edit and being able to compile it).

GitHub

What did we do before GitHub? Faffed, that’s what. I tried to put GeekWeaver into a Python Egg or something, but it was complicated and full of confusing layers of directory.  And you need a certain understanding of Python arcana to handle it right. In contrast, everyone uses Git and GitHub these days. Installing and playing on your machine is easier. Updates are more visible.

GeekWeaver is now on GitHub
. And as you can see from the quickstart guide on that page, you can be up and running by copying and pasting 4 instructions to your Linux terminal. (Should work on Mac too.) Getting into editing outlines with Fargo (or the OPML Editor still works fine) is a bit more complicated, but not that hard. (See above.)

Markdown

Originally GeekWeaver was conceived as using the same UseMod derived wiki-markup that I used in SdiDesk (and now Project ThoughtStorms for Smallest Federated Wiki). Then part of the Lisp purism got to me and I decided that such things should be implementable in the language, not hardwired, and so started removing them. 

The result was, while GeekWeaver was always better than hand-crafting HTML, it was still, basically hand-crafting HTML, and maybe a lot less convenient that using your favourite editor with built-in snippets or auto-complete.

In 2013 I accepted the inevitable. Markdown is one of the dominant wiki-like markup languages. There’s a handy Python library for it which is a single, install away. And Winer’s Fargo / Trex ecosystem already uses it. 


So in the last couple of days I managed to incorporate a &&markdown mode into GeekWeaver pretty easily. There are a couple of issues to resolve, mainly because of collisions between Markdown and other bits of GeekWeaver markup, but I’m now willing to change GeekWeaver to make Markdown work. It’s obvious that even in its half-working state, Markdown is a big win that makes it a lot easier to write a bigger chunks of text in GeekWeaver. And, given that generating static documentation was GeekWeaver’s original and most-common use-case, that’s crucial.

Where Next?


Simplification. I’m cleaning out the cruft, throwing out the convoluted and buggy attempts to make higer-order blocks and lexical closures. (For the meantime.) 
  
Throwing out some of my own idiosyncratic markup to simplify HTML forms, PHP and javascript. Instead GW is going to refocus on being a great tool for adding user-defined re-usable abstractions to a) Markdown and b) any other text file.

In recent years I’ve done other libraries for code-generation. For example, Gates of Dawn is Python for generating synthesizers as PureData files. (BTW : I cleaned up that code-base a bit, recently, too.)

Could you generate synths from GeekWeaver? Sure you could. It doesn’t really help though, but I’ve learned some interesting patterns from Gates of Dawn, that may find their way into GW.

Code Generation has an ambiguous reputation. It can be useful and can be more trouble than it’s worth. But if you’re inclined to think using outlining AND you believe in code-gen then GeekWeaver is aiming to become the perfect tool for you.

I’m a couple of days into LinkBlogging using Fargo, (at Yelling At Strangers From The Sky) and I have to say, I’m getting into the swing and it’s great.

If you keep the outline open in a tab, it’s about as fast and convenient to post to Fargo as posting a link to Plus or Twitter. (Which is where traditional blogs like WordPress / Blogger often fall short). In fact, G+ is now getting bloated that it can take 10 seconds just to open the “paste a new message” box. It’s a lot faster than that.

It would be nice if it could automatically include a picture or chunk of text from the original page the way FB / G+ do, that’s turned out to be a compelling experience for me, but it’s a nice not must-have.

A question, is there any kind of API for the outline inside the page which a bookmarklet could engage with? (Is that even possible given the browser security model?)

This is really good news.

Dave Winer finally comes out with a decent outliner in the browser.

I’ve been looking for one for a long time. (Thought of trying to write it too, but it’s not my speciality. Now you get one from the world’s biggest Outlining evangelist.)

This is also great news for Winer himself, I think. As always, he has a lot of crucial ideas for where the web should be going. But for a while it’s seemed like the main thing holding him back has been a code-base that’s a Windows desktop application. (Which is NOT where either users or developers want to party these days.) The few times I’ve thought I’d like to look into the open-sourced Frontier / OPML Editor I’ve been put off by that.

A new browser-based UI (and Javascript-based server?) hopefully means that he’ll be able to get more people involved in his code, interacting with his services, and start to have an impact via technology as well as evangelism.

And me, I’m holding on for the OPML export / import … ahem … cough …  GeekWeaver … cough. 😉

Worth reading “Where’s your data?

Remember, your Mind Traffic Control data is easily exportable. Just go to : http://mindtrafficcontrol.appspot.com/exports (Via the “Export Data” menu item) and choose whether you want your data exported in CSV format (which you can import into Excel or EditGrid etc.) or OPML (which can be read in the OPML Editor or (less conveniently) in any XML editor).