Welcome to the first edition of Eight Questions For …, where I pick the brains of plain text enthusiasts from around the world and around the web. I’m kicking the series off with a chat with Brian Bennett, a teacher from Indiana.
Brian was one of the of first people to agree to be interviewed for this series, and the first one to send me his answers. What I found interesting about Brian’s shift to plain text was that it started off being pragmatic. Plain text then became a digital lifestyle and work style choice for him. Brian gets bonus points for using the Atom text editor and Todo.txt (two of my favourite tools).
Let’s hear from Brian:
When did you start using plain text?
I started programming in 2012 while I was working at a software company as an education liaison. Since then, I’ve started using it for personal tasks like todo lists and idea parking lots. Many of my text files are tied to Python or bash scripts.
Why did you start using plain text?
I wanted to know more about how the software engineers worked so I could work more efficiently with them. I like the flexibility (you can use text files on literally any platform) and the tiny size of the files.
What do you use plain text for?
Task management (using Todo.txt at the command line) and idea vaults (which are Python scripts tied to a bash alias). I also program systems to make my work more efficient (document creation and distribution in Google Apps Script, logging work hours, etc).
What keeps you using plain text?
I can start a file on my phone, put it in my Dropbox, then open it on my iPad to add some stuff before finishing details on my computer when I can sit down. The format is infinitely transferrable and lasts forever, as long as I can find the file.
I’m also not distracted by thinking about formatting because I’ve learned that I’m easily focused on how it looks above the substance. Plain text helps me focus on communicating an idea clearly in print before looking at its aesthetics.
Do you use any markup or formatting languages? If so, which ones and why?
I learned plain HTML before Markdown, so I frequently find myself writing in HTML notation. Markdown is becoming more habitual, but I don’t have any Markdown formatters outside of my personal blog, so it really only applies there.
What are your favourite plain text tools or applications?
I use Atom editor on my Mac nearly exclusively. Every now and then I’ll make a file and add some info at the command line, but not often. I haven’t found a specific editor on mobile that I love yet.
Is there one tool that you can’t do without?
Dropbox syncs all of my files for my todo list, in particular. As long as I can read and write to it, I’m happy. I’ve also used GitHub to store files across devices, but that’s usually for larger projects rather than single documents.
Is there anything you can’t do with plain text?
I work on a distributed team, so we rely heavily on Google Drive and related apps. I can throw plain text files up there, but my day to day work with others still lives in word processors. Version tracking is also hard to do with a straight plain text file, so other applications to take care of versioning are helpful.