I like what Patrick Rhone does at Minimal Mac, so I’m not happy that the second mention of him on this blog is going to be critical, but I think this video of his is just wrong in many ways.

It’s about automating the creation of Markdown links, a topic I have several years of experience with.

The video starts with him showing an inexplicably inefficient way to insert inline Markdown links while working in TextMate. To review, an inline link in Markdown looks like this:

…while working in [TextMate]( To review…

Instead of using a single snippet with two tab stops—the first for the link text and the second for the URL—he uses the more clumsy auto-pair system, which forces him to

  1. do a little bit more typing, and
  2. remember to include both parts of the link.

By not using snippets, and the prompting they provide, he’s missing out on one of TextMate’s greatest features.

But working in TextMate isn’t his primary focus. He moves on to demonstrate a pair of TextExpander snippets that mimic his two-part TextMate technique. To that end, he creates one snippet puts the clipboard text in brackets and another that puts the clipboard text in parentheses. To be sure, this will work in any program, not just TextMate, but it takes even more keystrokes because he has to copy the link text to the clipboard before invoking the bracketing TE snippet.

These inefficiencies1 in his setup aren’t my biggest gripe, though. What I dislike the most are two comments made as he introduces the TextExpander snippets:

  1. TextMate is a $60 program; it’s pretty expensive. Yes, Patrick, TextMate is a $60 program, but that’s $60 you already spent. Using TextExpander instead of TextMate isn’t going to get you that $60 back.

    I would certainly understand it if you decided you didn’t like TextMate and didn’t want to use it anymore, but that’s not the case. It’s in your Dock and you say in the video that you like to use it. So why not use it more and learn to use it better instead of dicking around in an underpowered editor like TextEdit? Why not get your money’s worth out of TextMate by using it the way it’s meant to be used?

    I don’t see how using three text editors—TextMate, TextEdit, and Notational Velocity are all mentioned in the video—qualifies as “minimal.”

  2. I have the old version [of TextExpander] that operates in the System Preferences. I haven’t upgraded to the new and I don’t want to. OK, this time you are saving money, but you’re really screwing yourself. TextExpander 3’s fill-in-the-blank snippets are exactly what you need for multiple-input text blocks like Markdown links. The $15 upgrade fee would save you a lot of time.2

My idea of minimalism when it comes to text is taken from the old-time Unix users, most of whom preferred to do all their text editing in the same editor. Emacs users accomplished this by sticking everything into Emacs: mail via VM, newsgroups via Gnus, contact management via BBDB, and so on. Vi partisans used tools that opened vi whenever any text editing had to be done—that was the purpose of the shell’s EDITOR and VISUAL variables. Either way, they were always editing in an environment that took advantage of the muscle memory in their fingers.

The standard Mac text editing interface has provided some of the consistency the Unix hackers wanted; certain keystrokes and mouse actions work the same in all text entry fields. To get that last bit of consistency, Mac users can install Jesse Grosjean’s free QuickCursor utility and tie it to their favorite text editor. I use QuickCursor to open TextMate any time I expect to write more than a line or two. It’s especially good for writing in web page <textarea> boxes.

I like to think my Macs are minimal.3 I use the hell out of a handful of applications and write scripts to fill in the gaps. Both TextMate and TextExpander have been worthwhile purchases, but that’s mainly because they’re deep programs that reward users who dig in to learn the best ways to use them.

  1. David Sparks has, I think, a much better handle on how to write efficient Markdown link snippets in TextExpander. I still think my TextMate snippets are better—for reasons I gave in a comment to his post—but his are about as good as anyone could hope for within the limits of TextExpander. 

  2. See again the David Sparks post

  3. I’m typing this on a 12″ iBook G4 with an 80GB hard drive. You can’t get much more minimal than that.