Author Michael McCallister
Author Michael McCallister

Hi! I’m Michael McCallister, but you can call me Mike. I write about technology, software, and the open Internet from the viewpoint of the user.

Do you (or your readers) want

  • to get more out of WordPress and the open Web? I co-authored WordPress in Depth and currently write for WPMUDev. I built this site myself, with the incredible assistance of the global WordPress and IndieWeb communities. I can help you too.
  • better access to the power of Linux and free, open source software? I’ve been running Linux since 2000 and wrote openSUSE Linux Unleashed. I can help.
  • a better understanding of modern social media and building a writer (or business) platform? I co-authored Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules. I can help.

I believe that personal computing and the internet are the most powerful tools ever developed to empower people and advance democracy. Click the Metaverse tab above to see Notes from the Metaverse, where I offer news and analysis of these topics. I’ve spent the last few decades learning to master these tools, and helping others to do the same. If you find it interesting, please Follow!

Click the links to learn more about me and my life, buy my books, and read some thoughts on the writing life. You may see some additional tweaks of the site in the coming days. If you’re missing something you think should be here, do say hello!

 

I’ve had the honor to publish a few articles in Linux Format, also known as LXF, the UK’s surviving print Linux magazine. I’ve subscribed to it for a few years now, but the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc for overseas delivery (among other things). My issues have been appearing in my mailbox in seemingly random order.

This week I received the October 2020 issue #268 with BUILD A SMART HOME OFFICE on the cover. Inside was a small, but pleasant surprise. (Note: I may disappoint you with the link; you’ll see a list of the stories, but can’t read them if you’re not a subscriber.)

On the first page of every LXF issue, the five guys (yes, I’m afraid they’re all men) who write most of the magazine’s content answer that month’s “Who We Are” question. This issue’s question was about top tips or tools to help readers to work smarter.

I smiled at Nick Peers’ recommendation:

If, like me, your thoughts and inspirations vanish as quickly as they appear, you need some way of getting them down on (virtual) paper. And what better tool than Joplin (https://joplinapp.org). which ended my years-long quest for a note-taking tool that does it all? Don’t believe me? Check out our tutorial in LXF260…

Nick doesn’t have anywhere near the space to include every critical detail, but I smiled because I wrote the bloody tutorial!

Now a close reading of this little blurb doesn’t say explicitly that my tutorial persuaded him to try Joplin, thus ending “my years-long quest for a note-taking tool that does it all.” But I’m still going to believe that it did.

What is Joplin?

So what is Joplin? Well, it’s a few things:

  • An open-source replacement for the commercial note-taker Evernote
  • A place to write down all those brilliant ideas you have in your head, but can never seem to act on
  • A Markdown editor
  • A place to store interesting things you find online, and access with any device you have

Joplin imports your Evernote notebooks after you export them. If your favorite browser supports extensions, Joplin will let you save web pages and articles.

Using Joplin

Here’s the default screen:

Editing screen for the Joplin open-source notetaking app.
Joplin makes it easy to take notes and store them.

You can organize your notes into Notebooks any way you like. Everything is searchable in the search bar at the top of the second column where your note titles live. The editor shows text with Markdown markings showing formatting. If you don’t know Markdown, use the standard text-editor toolbar at the top. Joplin then renders your notes in HTML on the right.

If you don’t need to see both views, press Ctrl+L to toggle that view. If you love to configure software so it’s just right, there’s Tools > Options (or Ctrl+,).

Joplin runs on Linux, Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, so you should be able to take notes and read them everywhere. To do that, however, you need to store them in the cloud. Joplin currently supports NextCloud, Dropbox and OneDrive. Set up your cloud account in Joplin, and click Synchronize to send your notes there.

That’s the quick tour. If you can’t get a copy of Linux Format #260, the Joplin website can help you get started. The Support forum is really good too.

If you have a favorite note-taking app, tell me about it in the Comments.

Years before I even knew about the Internet, I covered politics in my hometown, Milwaukee. Starting at my college paper, the UWM Post, and continuing through a series of local alternative weeklies. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on that beat, but a few weeks ago, I got the bug again.

Representative Robyn Vining, from her Wisconsin state assembly page.

 

 

When a hitherto-unknown politician (at least unknown to me) started running ads about her campaign for state assembly, I got curious. This week, I finally silenced the voices in my head by publishing “Who is Robyn Vining? Why is she running ads on TV?”

The story tells you a little bit about her, and some rampant speculation about her reasons for spending campaign money on TV ads, a medium where many more people will see her ads than can vote for her.

FYI: The story isn’t behind a paywall; anyone can read it.

Let me know what you think of this piece, either in the Comments below or on Medium itself. Should I do more of this? If you happen to be an editor and like it, drop me a line. We should probably talk about other things to write about. 😉

 

Google Season of Docs logo

This week, Google announced the 50 organizations taking part in this year’s Google Season of Docs (GSoD). I wrote a “Tech Writer’s Guide to Google’s Season of Docs” for TechWhirl’s Tech Writer Today magazine to invite writers (perhaps even you) to explore the program.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Google’s Season of Code program. Google started Season of Docs in 2019. Here, technical writers and open source organizations meet up and improve a variety of help docs. North American writers who successfully complete their selected project receive a $6000 stipend from Google. Writers in other countries get similar stipends based on their relative cost of living.

The article is something of a condensed version of the program’s own technical writer’s guide. I also offer some advice on how to select a project and complete the application.

GSoD is something I would have loved to get into when I was a baby tech writer. Sadly, Google barely existed when I got started. Today’s Google may not have “Don’t be evil” as a motto anymore, but this is a positive boost for a variety of open source projects. Of course, the ultimate beneficiaries are the users of the software, so it’s good for everyone! By the way, the WordPress doc team is involved, so you can help improve those documents.

Go read the article, go see the final reports from last year’s GSoD, and then start exploring your ideas for improving open source documentation. You have until July 9, 2020 to apply to the program.

Meanwhile, you can find more of my best work for TechWhirl in my portfolio.