Some of you may have figured out by now that I’m blogging over on Penn-Olson.com, an up-and-coming blog focused on technology in Asia. Think Mashable or Techcrunch but with an Asian focus. It means that I get to cover China again, something I haven’t done much of since moving leaving China for Japan back in 2008. But above all else it means that I get to experiment with new web publishing tools, something I seldom get to do when writing freelance for individual clients.
I was lucky to blog a little for The Unofficial Apple Weblog over the past year, and I had a chance to see some of the amazing work that Brett Terpstra (my new favorite-person-on-the-internet) is doing by using Markdown (a plain text formatting systax) and TextMate’s blogging bundle.
Following Brett's lead, I'm now using TextMate as my Wordpress blogging interface on Penn Olson, and it’s much faster and way more fun. We mostly use snippets and commands to add tag links, but it also makes things quicker when contributors submit a piece written in Markdown. It can be converted and uploaded in a jiffy. See the bundle over on Github if you'd like to check it out. Feel free to modify it for your own blog.
Check out the video below for a quick explainer of the process.
More Markdown & TextMate Resources
Here are a few resources (some mentioned in the video) if you’d like to get started blogging from Textmate.
- What is Markdown? Try it on Hashify
- Blogging from TextMate (plus video tutorial)
- Very brief TextMate Tour (video)
- TextMate Basics Tutorial
- To upload images to Wordpress from Textmate, make sure to select Blog - Markdown as your document type. Then just drag them into the text area.
- Tabs to reference in Safari
Sidenote: TextMate for Live Reporting
The more I use TextMate, the more use cases I discover for it. TextMate snippets are also very handy for live blogging, as snippet’s ‘variable mirroring’ allows for very quick creation of Winerlink-like anchor links for each live blog update (see snippet on Git). I used this method at the recent Global Mobile Internet conference in Beijing (read more details on that here).
Similarly, last year I used the snippet function (text substitutions/shortcuts) for quick reporting from the World Volleyball Championships. It was especially useful when I needed to type long Polish or Russian player names, but instead I could just type their respective uniform numbers.
Charts and maps and videos, oh my
I’m also ecstatic that Penn Olson is open to playing around with interactive web content. I’m primarily using easy solutions like Google Spreadsheets and Fusion Tables (see how here), but I’m really looking forward to learning more as I go. IBM’s Many Eyes has been useful too, but it’s painfully clunky. A few examples I’ve enjoyed making so far:
- South Korea Wins Internet Speed Race: ‘Speedometer’ charts made with Google Spreadsheets, map with Fusion Tables
- China’s Internet Usage by Region: China province map created with Many Eyes.
- Mac OS X: Hot in Singapore, Ice-Cold in China: Hot/cold line chart using Google Spreadsheets’ Motion Chart thingy.
- Japan’s Asahi Shimbun Goes Digital. Or Does it? Fun tree map chart made in Google Spreadsheets.
- A Look at Jiayuan.com, the Latest Chinese IPO: Standard bar chart at bottom made in Google Spreadsheets.
- India Fights Corruption, Tweets for #AnnaHazare: A simple word cloud made by importing tweets to Google Spreadsheets and then visualizing with Tagxedo (regrettably it requires f*cking Silverlight!)
I’m also really happy about getting to do video, and having recently traded in my piece-o-shit Flip camera for a new, low-end DSLR Canon EOS 1100D, shooting and editing short reports is now fun again. See these recent interviews, which are not outstanding, but a good start I think.
Other miscellaneous tools
I’ve been meaning to talk about my shift over to Penn-Olson for a while, but when Will Sullivan put out a call for journalism workflow tips and tricks, I thought I’d try to focus on that aspect. With that in mind, here are a few of the other fun tools that I/we have been using on Penn Olson:
- Facebook group for contributors to post links and discuss possible stories
- IRC chatroom for contributors across Asia to chat together in real time
- Documentation Wiki (including styleguide) hosted on Google Sites
- Google Trends and Google Insights to see what topics are hot in each Asian region
- Yahoo Pipes to filter heavy RSS feeds for targeted keywords (i.e. China, Japan)
- Dapp Factory to create feeds for sites which have none
- Notify.me for getting important feed updates with an Instant Message notification, for when Google Reader is a little too slow
- Skype call recorder for when you need to record an phone (VOIP) interview