MultiMarkdown and Me

MultiMarkdown: All I Never Knew I Wanted:

When I write, I want to write text files that are ready to be published either as word processing files or to the Web, with full formatting, while still already human-readable simply as text. And I didn’t even know how badly I wanted that until I discovered that it’s possible with Markdown. This is probably easier to show first, then tell.

As you can see, the *.txt file is human-readable, and I get the same formatting results whether I publish to *.rtf (for word processing) or to HTML (for web publishing as you’re reading it now). This is the point.

Results Explained:

These examples illustrate the gist of it. As a writer, this is what I gain from MultiMarkdown:

I get to create a human-readable document that can nonetheless be exported to the Web as HTML. Have you ever seen a page of text that is marked up for HTML, that is for web viewing? It’s a blizzard of tags that make the actual content unreadable. (You can see an example if you select, in your browser, View: Source or Page Source.) But with MultiMarkdown (or just Markdown: see below), I have a document that is prepared for the web, but which is also totally readable in plain text.

I get to create a human-readable document that can nonetheless be exported to a word processor as *.rtf (RTF). Have you ever seen a page of text that is marked up as *.rtf, for opening in Word or another word processor? It’s even worse than with HTML. (You can see an example if you take the RTF file linked above, change the suffix from *.rtf to *.txt, and open it in Apple’s TextEdit or in Microsoft Notepad.) But again, with MultiMarkdown, I have a document that is prepared for export as *.rtf to almost any word processor, but again which is also totally readable in plain text.

I get to write this file just once, and archive it as a single file, no matter whether I used it for word processing or web publishing. The same file, written in MultiMarkdown, can be exported as an *.rtf document, easily read in almost any word processor, or as HTML, easily read by any browser or pasted into a blog post or web site.

I get to compose this file in plain text, in any application that suits my stage in the writing process (collecting ideas, outlining, drafting, editing, publishing). It doesn’t feel like I am writing “markup,” it feels as much as possible like I am simply writing. The beauty of Markup is that most of it derives from email conventions: a line of white space between paragraphs, or asterisks surrounding a word or phrase to mark emphasis, or two asterisks for strong text. There are multiple ways (see below on Gruber’s Markdown) to write Web links that are wonderfully readable, completely unlike HTML web link markup.

I get to be sure that it will be readable in twenty years, without a word processor or web browser to render the formatting. Do you have any old files that you cannot read anymore because they only exist in an obsolete format like “AppleWorks”? The stuff I wrote during my Masters work can only be opened as plain text, and the text is entirely buried in obsolete markup and code. But the stuff I write today in Markdown is already human-readable in plain text, and will remain human-readable for as long as we have plain text.

This is the beauty of MultiMarkdown: plain text files, easily readable to the human eye, but already marked up for headers, sub-headers, ordered or unordered lists, emphasis, and footnotes…both for word processing via *.rtf or for web publishing via HTML. Yeah, it’s the writer’s holy grail.

What is MultiMarkdown?

John Gruber developed Markdown with the web-publishing end in view. Markdown allows almost any formatting one will need for most purposes: emphasis (usually italics), strong text (usually bold), paragraphing, lists, block quotes, hyperlinks to the web, and more. However, Gruber’s Markdown exporter only exports as HTML, because web-publishing is what Gruber has in mind.

Fletcher Penney developed MultiMarkdown as a supplement to, or extension of, Gruber’s Markdown. It accomplishes two things:

  • It exports Markdown as *.rtf rather than only as HTML. (It also exports to OPML, LaTex, and other formats that you may or may not know about or be interested in.)
  • It adds syntax for things like bibliography, footnotes, tables, and more.

So, MultiMarkdown incorporates all the features of Gruber’s Markdown, and extends the idea beyond web publishing to word processing. Note that you do have to install Fletcher’s MultiMarkdown script and support package in order to export MultiMarkdown plain text files as HTML, *.rtf, or other file formats.

My Workflow

I like this because I often don’t know where doodling, note-taking, and outlining might leave off and “writing” begin. I am learning to write in MultiMarkdown all the time, in every stage, because any of that stuff may, at some point, become part of the written piece. Composed in Markdown, anything I write is legible while I play around with it, and it won’t require additional formatting for word processors or for the Web once that writing sits in the final, published piece.

For example, this blog post was

  • begun as a note in NotationalVelocity,
  • moved into OmniOutliner while I played with structure and began some drafting,
  • imported via OPML into Scrivener for continued drafting and editing. From Scrivener I can compile it as HTML (as for this post in WordPress), or as *.rtf for word processing. I save it in Scrivener, but also compiled as plain text ( *.txt) for archiving.

At any of these stages I can compose freely in MultiMarkdown, working in whatever tools suits my present location and purposes, knowing that the result will be a human-readable plain text file formatted for word processing or for the Web.

What do you think? It can sound complicated, and there is a bit of a front-end learning curve (not much, for anyone who already habitually writes in “email style” paragraphing), but once learned, it is all simplicity itself. Can MultiMarkdown do for you what it does for me?

[MultiMarkdown and Me was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/05/02. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

More Active Reading: How to Read a Textbook Chapter

A week or so back, I wrote here about exercises in “active reading.” There, I included links to a number of blank worksheets that students could use to help them read actively (Bull’s Eye organizer; Fish-bone organizer; K-W-L sheet; and more).

As an exemplar to the class, I “actively read” a scholarly essay: I wrote a short phrase next to every paragraph in the essay, and also filled in each of the worksheets. I then called attention to this in class and posted it to their Blackboard.

The next weekend, while supervising a local chess tournament, I came upon a kind of “active reading” poster in the middle-school library (Flickr):

THIEVES, an acronym for Title, Heading, Everything I want to know, Visuals, End-of-section material, So what?

This pretty much exactly corresponds to what I tell students about how to read the chapters from their textbook:

  • Read the chapter’s introductory paragraph. List the keywords in the margin of that paragraph.
  • Read the major headings (“Jeremiah and the Deuteronomists”; turn them into questions (“What do the Deuteronomists have to do with Jeremiah?”).
  • Look at the graphics: photographs, tables, timelines, maps. What do they make you think of? What questions do they make you ask? Write these in the margins of the chapter’s first page.
  • Ask yourself: What sorts of things do you already know about the topics coming up in this exercise?
  • Read the concluding paragraph and any study questions or glossaries at the end of the chapter. Plan to search out the answers to these as you read the chapter.
  • Read one (1) major section in the chapter. For each paragraph, jot the main points into the margin, in your own words. At the end of the section, describe aloud what that section communicated to you. Repeat this for each section. This should take several sittings, probably one sitting for each major section.
  • Bring this chapter into conversation with your life. What difference does this information make? How does it challenge things you already knew or believed? How does it help answer or solve questions you have had in the past? What does it make you want to try to discover next?

This may seem time-consuming, but in practice it is an incredible time saver: with interactive reading, you can read the chapter once instead of several times, because you retain the content at a much higher rate than through passive reading. Also, by breaking the reading up over several sittings, the subject matter can “percolate” for you, making unexpected connections to your other studies or activities.

Students, do you already do any of these kinds of things when reading? Profs, do you offer any kind of guidance or instruction in active reading?

[More Active Reading: How to Read a Textbook Chapter was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/18. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Active Reading” for Seminary Learners

I did my first research paper as a Masters student. I know, I know. My wife, having come up through Jesuit secondary and undergraduate schooling, can’t believe it either. In any case, when we talk about the wide range of preparation with which students arrive at seminary, I do get it: in many undergraduate programs, the research paper doesn’t come up. And as for secondary school, anyone who doesn’t avoid hard work in high school simply isn’t trying.

When I did begin my Masters program, and the 50%-of-grade research/thesis paper met me right at the door first semester, I was well positioned to learn the ropes quickly. In my family of origin, curiosity had been rewarded, we all read like hell, and there was a normalcy to spending several hours at the library—or on a solo bike trip exploring the four points of the compass, or digging up the back yard—and talking about what kind of stuff you’d found out about. (You’d get a killer spanking for digging up the yard, but could still talk freely of your findings.) So I read up on “the thesis paper,” memorized every word of the professor’s instructions in the syllabus, and tried to “go and do likewise.” With great success, because while I was inexperienced with the form, I was pretty well prepared by a formation that was (might as well say it) atypical, and even—with regard to the factors relevant here—privileged.

This is all on my mind as I read articles about “active reading,” a mode of reading that is natural to me because what else do you do after reading except yammer about it in excruciating detail to an older sister (thanks, Jul, thanks, Kay), but which is not, it turns out, natural to everybody who experiences a call to be a leader in the church.

My “Intro to Old Testament” syllabus changes a lot, but often involves having the students read journal articles or essays in edited books. This semester, I am having them read only a handful or so, but I have developed a new activity for the reading: we are to identify the article’s thesis or central idea, the evidence that it incorporates into its argument, and the elements of its line of reasoning. My hope is that this will help them to think of their final paper in such structured terms. (They will also be writing the paper in four stages, offering each other peer review for the first three stages.)

The first reading assignment is going on this week (Christopher Rollston’s “The Rise of Monotheism in Ancient Israel: Biblical and Epigraphic Evidence,” Stone-Campbell Journal 6 [2003]: 95-115; PDF available). Having allowed them to work through that one as best they can, I plan to introduce helps for “active reading” that they can use for articles assigned later in the course.

The following helps are available at the Glencoe Online “Teaching Today” site:

My idea is to model the use of some or all of these when we discuss the Rollston article, then assign them to demonstrate use of any one of them the next time we read a journal article or essay from an edited book. My hope is that the students who are already well positioned to read actively will find the activity something of a cake walk (while probably still benefiting from exposure to new processes in active reading), while the students who are relatively new to active reading might enjoy some breakthroughs in how they interact with reading: breakthroughs that just might pay off throughout their Masters work.

Instructors, do you ever assign activities to enhance active reading? Students, can you imagine profiting from assignments of this kind?

[“Active Reading” for Seminary Learners was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/01. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Reading the Hebrew Bible—Aloud—over Two Years

As Charles and Daniel had made known, the Miqra Group plans to read the Hebrew Bible over a two-year period. So, you‘ll find me blogging and commenting over there as well as here.

My own “twist” on the reading program is to read the entire[note] Hebrew Bible aloud in two years. Despite years of teaching, and despite my continuing efforts to shape my teaching of biblical languages into an immersive mode, my reading fluency is not yet of a quality to satisfy my harshest critic (me). At some point, maybe I will add the Greek New Testament into the mix.

Anybody want to read the Bible aloud?

BACK TO POST And by “entire,” I mean, “except when grading, administrative emergencies, or urgent opportunities for professional development intervene.” Let she who is not a junior instructor cast the first stone.

[Reading the Hebrew Bible—Aloud—over Two Years was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/18. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Reading-from-the-Page in Presentation: Crazy’s Defense

Opinions about how to present effectively (or at least, not crashingly boringly) at the professional conferences come up perennially on the blogs, usually (for us Bible types) around the time of our November professional conference, but at other times as well. Other fields also make their own observations (h/t to Bitternsweet Girl).

Now, Dr. Crazy makes a thorough argument for the “reading from a piece of paper” model of presentation. Crazy is in literary studies, and most of her argument is directly relevant to what we usually do in biblical studies: present novel interpretations of literary source material that is already well known to our hearers.

As usual, Crazy’s post draws thoughtful comments, some of which challenge the distinction she makes between presentations of experiments (as in the sciences) and presentations as described above (as in literary and biblical studies, though I know our epigraphy and archaeology sections might fall more into the description-of-research mode).

Take a look. It’s never too soon to be thinking about the next conference. Does Crazy make you re-think the “reading a paper” mode of presentation favorably, even though that’s almost certainly not how you teach?

[Reading-from-the-Page in Presentation: Crazy’s Defense was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/30. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Reading and Tweeting

Lisa Halverson (Open High School of Utah) is reading Lord of the Flies with her students, and they are Tweeting as they read using the hash tag #lotf. (Apparently another group recently began using the same tag for “Land of the Free,” but you’ll find a solid group of Lord-of-the-Flies material if you scroll down a bit.)

Many Twitter users have observed that, on balance, Twitter is shaking down to be more about information-distribution than about building communities. However, this is a continuum, not a binary: users do experience the creation and especially the maintenance of communities on Twitter. It seems to me that this might be especially true for reading groups.

A Twitter hash tag search is easily saved as an RSS feed and can be incorporated into a class’s web site and consulted whenever the reader likes. Feeling isolated in your reading? Want some inspiration from your co-readers? Check the feed. Contribute to it. Build up your reading community.

My principle shared reading project right now is reading Context of Scripture in a year, mainly with Joseph. But I am also reading The Story with members of my congregation. And of course, I am frequently reading biblical texts along with my students.

This application of Web 2.0 is almost ridiculously easy, and so is readily introduced to the non-web-savvy: sign up with Twitter, learn to use a hash tag. Have you ever Tweeted as part of a reading group? Can you imagine doing so?

[Reading and Tweeting was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/09. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“The Story” (Zondervan): Reading the Bible?

As a kind of resolution for 2010, our rector has decided that we’ll be reading the Bible this year (I pause here for jokes about the Episcopal Church and knowing nods; better now? okay). The initial vehicle will be a ten-week reading group, working through The Story: Read the Bible as One Seamless Story from Beginning to End (revised edition; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). Amazon/Publisher

I should say right away that, on balance, I am excited that we’re pushing Bible and finding ways to encourage familiarity with it. This church happens to have racked up some pretty staggering accomplishments in outreach, in community service, in local and international charity, and (less quantitatively but not less noticeably) in growing a community marked by a joyous mutual love. A more solid biblical foundation can only strengthen the kind of theological thinking that already drives the congregation.

Now for the gripes.

The Story starts with the TNIV as a base text. Put positively: at least it’s not a paraphrastic, expansionistic re-telling of the biblical text tending toward commentary (like at least one prominent translation I could name). Put negatively: I didn’t have any use for the NIV, and the TNIV doesn’t do anything to change that assessment. I believe strongly in the educational value of underscoring, rather than denying, tensions among the biblical texts. Harmonizing translations interfere with that project of teaching and learning, so I normally avoid them except for illustrations of the problems I associate with the harmonizing project. Overall, then: could be worse.

In terms of “Seamless Story from Beginning to End”: obviously the editors have had to decide on a timeline. Decisions made here are predictable: early patriarchs and exodus; Isa 40–66 as predictive prophecy; Solomon as pious but ultimately satyric author of Proverbs (but not, apparently, Ecclesiastes. Hey, where the heck is Ecclesiastes? Holy mo…where’s Job!? I guess there’s no room for the “dissenting wisdom” in The Story). And so on.

Where The Story skips or summarizes parts of the Bible, their stated plan is to put such summaries in italics, so that this editorial material can be distinguished from the biblical text itself. A couple of observations:

  • That transitional material can run to heavy-handedness (for Noah’s generation, life had become “one big party”? How do you get that from the biblical text’s description of “wickedness” and an inclination toward “evil”?).
  • The book inserts plenty of non-biblical commentary that is not set into italics. For example, this piece, that follows Gen 15:16 (“it was credited to him as righteousness”):

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Similarly, after Gen 22:

Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a matter of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

The perspicacious reader will observe that Paul of Tarsus has been set amok here, and that a brand of Pauline hermeneutic is shamelessly passing itself off as Hebrew Bible.

All this said: our rector is fully aware of the strengths and shortcomings of any attempt to abridge and narrativize the Bible, and she has invited the congregation up front to argue, wrestle, denounce, and question (which I’ve no doubt they will do). So, on balance, again, it’s a project that I can totally get behind and get excited about.

Anybody out there already have experience with The Story? Any stories about The Story?