Markup Languages and Note Taking/Meeting Notes 2017-10-16

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Markup Languages and Note Taking

Monday, 16 October 2017 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm
(Thanksgiving! Scheduled for the 2nd non-holiday Monday of the month)
Event Announcement
Communitech Jelly Bean Room 1st Floor, 151 Charles Street West, Kitchener, Ontario Map

How do you take notes? What software exists for note taking? What markup language is best for taking notes? Are your notes available on your phone or tablet? How do you synchronize them? How do you publish your notes online? When is it better to use a Note Taking application rather than a proper Word Processor?

This month we invite all the devotees of MarkDown, WikiText, MoinMoin, YAML, and LaTeX to contribute to the discussion at our round table.

--Marc Paré & Bob Jonkman


Note-taking applications
Markup Languages
Markup Editors

On creating a standard Markup Language:

Fortunately, the charging one has been solved now that we've all standardized on mini-USB. Or is it micro-USB? Shit.

Meeting Notes

  • Bob edits notes directly into MediaWiki (but only at KWNPSA)
    • Has tried Sticky Notes, Xpad, not suitable
    • mounts website locally, edits with his text editor, saves directly to website
    • Writes notes in notebook, transcribes to wiki, then copies generated HTML source to destination website

  • Steve's practice is to separate content from form
    • Create content first, but in a way that it's easy to add formatting stuff later on
      • WordProcessing doesn't do that, tries to do them both
      • WP tries to be an operating system
      • On all principles, WP are bad
      • But LibreOffice tries to fix that, its internal format is not proprietary
      • Valuable for
    • When writing, be concerned primarily with content, secondarily with syntax, format
      • Can always add typographical content (the markup) afterwards
    • eg. Wordcount isn't really needed, can't do it accurately by examining marked-up text
    • Steve uses his own markup, similar to Markdown, related to groff
      • Only worries about paragraph breaks and lists, maybe section headers
      • Does not want ML to interpret line breaks, unless there's two in a row
      • Always works in Linux, so LF only
    • Steve uses AWK script to render text,
      • But how to apply markup to a previous line?
    • Uses VIMperator in Firefox to edit online content

  • Kirk managed documentation in SGML using James Clark's DSSSL processor called "Jade" to generate RTF, TeX, PDF(?)
    • DSSSL == Wikipedia:Document Style Semantics and Specification Language
    • James Clark also wrote groff, modelled on SoftQuad troff
    • Schema for SGML was DocBook
    • None of which gave the results, so he used
    • DocBook in XML
    • Kirk wrote a stylesheet in XSLT to turn DocBook into XML for LibreOffice
      • "compiled" documentation, literally using "make"
    • XML provides rigid consistency, important to typographers
    • Also created WinHelp files with DSSSL
      • Also tried to create TeX files
    • The important part is that a single source document created multiple output file formats

  • Nick
    • Taking notes for school,
      • OneNote can be handy, good for finding notes and subcategories
    • Adapting different note taking for different purposes, even sticky notes
    • Different apps are suitable to different purposes
    • Short term is good with StickyNotes or Xpad
      • Version of StickyNotes with Win10 is colourizable
    • November is NaNoWriMo month,
      • Use OneNote is nice because it organizes a lot of notes, eg research, character development
      • But not for the actual manuscript, use a WP for that
    • There's a StickyNotes app for Android: Search F-Droid for "Sticky Notes"
    • Different situatation: Academic, professional, hobby -- all have different requirements, different needs
    • How to do the website?
      • Not his website, done on
      • Needed to directly edit HTML in, no feature to FTP content
      • The HTML viewer is not so great, uses his browser to download source, converts to PDF for a rough idea, then copy'n'paste back into the site
    • Notepad++ has nice indenting
    • Nick's site is largely static, but needs to update meeting events
      • Gets content from HTML e-mail, imports to Word, saves as HTML, then massages by hand (Word generates very verbose HTML)
      • this is a pretty common technique with other SysAdmins

  • Raymond
    • Casual note taking (temporary), eg library cards
      • Needs to do it on the cellphone
      • Notetaker on iPhone
      • Google Keep on Android --
        • Has checklists! Good feature!
        • Google Notebook was good, no longer exists
      • Uses computer to enter content for reading on cell phone
    • For serious notetaking
      • Started with text files, but that's a problem, eg. need diagrams, searching
      • Searchable is a top requirement
      • Offline use is important
        • Bob has horror story: taking notes at KWNPSA directly into wiki, closed laptop, needed to recover document from browser cache
      • Organization is important,
      • Re-ordering, re-sorting
    • Javascript, programming
    • Using Evernote for a long time
      • Has a limit on the traffic, now restricted to two devices (annoying with Macbook, cell phone, office desktop)
      • Can search, even text in pictures.
      • Free (as in gratis)
      • Crossplatform
      • Evernote and StickyNote can synchronize!
    • Tried OneNote years ago, didn't work well
      • Formatting or search ability wasn't good enough

  • Mojtaba is not a heavy note taker
    • Tried OneNote
    • gedit and vim on the desktop
    • Google Notes on the phone
    • Plain text!
    • Does programming with vim
      • just search through directories with egrep
General Musings
  • Raymond has used competitor Sublime Text
  • Mojtaba has used vundle (package manager for vim)

  • People using online apps to synchronize between devices
  • OneNote does not have an import/export function
    • Raymond can set up a channel ifttt (If This Then That)
    • But OneNote is too proprietary to get stuff out (export)

  • Steve: Organize stuff in a file system to make it easy to find
    • Doc files in one subdir, PDF in another, then create a "logfile" to locate stuff
    • Keep notes organized by project, more concerned with content

Tech stuff
  • How is a "schema" different from the ML?
    • SGML and XML are serialization formats, taking data and turning it into one long stream of characters
    • DocBook and DITA are schemas that specify the allowable data elements eg, a DTD in HTML or SGML
    • XSLTProc using DocBook stylesheets to render HTML

  • LaTeX is a superset for Tex
    • Much more structured
    • But easier to use
    • And probably faster to describe things like formulas
    • groff is pretty much the same syntax for marking up math
    • Every computer science and math student needs to know TeX
    • Built-in font is "Computer Modern"
      • But there are commands to change to any other font for better legibility
    • Donald Knuth wrote "metafont" to create fonts, TeX to do page layout
    • Tex is primarily layout and presentation, LaTeX adds semantics
      • Steve gives a brief overview of LaTeX document structure, logical and strict
  • In typesetting
    • Authors are just concerned about appearance
    • Typesetters want more document structure
    • groff is a typesetting language
    • runoff for running online printers in the 1960s
    • Bell Labs operating system created to generate output
      • "We'll write you a typesetting language", just need an OS so they created Unix
      • troff was the result "typeset and runoff"
        • Author died suddenly, Brian Kernighan needed to reverse-engineer the code, rewrote in C
      • SoftQuad got rights to the troff code, developed it before "SGML handbook", HoTMetaL
        • Tied to Coach House Press

  • Reminiscing about the old days when you could still talk to people in charge of major industries
    • Phototypesetting: Steve gives a brief history

  • Mindmapping tools
    • Freeplane:
      • Lots of features
      • Non-linear editing
      • decorate with icons
      • Lua scripting language
    • Freemind is another
      • Both Java applications, for platform independence?
      • Mindmanager is a commercial version for Windows
    • Similar to WP outlining feature
      • But you need to scroll up and down to find things

  • Spectrum of file formats
    • From binary data with human read-only output
    • to readable input formats
    • eg. JSON format is not a good human-readable language
    • eg. YAML is for machine readable, not human
    • XML is not as human-readable as Markdown either
    • Markdown is an incomplete language, can't deal with some formatting issues
      • Lists are a problem (but there is the pipe character
    • Makes sense for XML to be more strict
      • Machine needs to read the DOM

  • Sometimes meaning of document structure disappears for human readers when a stylesheet is applied that alters appearance

  • Typographic needs a structure like XML
    • Can contain markup content that is not rendered, but gives typographic instructions
      • eg. command to kern a paragraph
    • Steve uses attributes as non-content typographic instructions
    • If you need to pass structural data use XML
    • Markup languages can target either humans or machines
    • The more complicated the document structure, the more you need a non-human-readable format like XML
  • Books with indices lend themselves to XML
    • also bibliographies, very strict for punctuation and capitalization
    • Steve can apply scripts to a document to apply structure, strip out what the author has done
      • Generate Tables fo Content from marked up content, don't cut'n'paste
      • DRY - Don't Repeat Yourself

  • What is the format that uses separate lines for markup, eg.


  • SGML and HTML and XML aren't meant for writing, but for semantic meaning
    • More of an interchange format
    • Editors need to be for getting content into the editor quickly
    • Choose an editor or Markup Language for "pretty", how it appears
    • or choose an editor/ML for semantic meaning

Future topics