Stackedit Markdown

Formatting articles for apps: Markdown to the rescue

This week, our startup updated the official guide to the International Eucharistic Congress 2016 that will be held in Cebu this January. The update contained new information including the complete schedule, profile of speakers as well as a News sub-section that will contain updates leading to and during the actual event.

Among the new information that went into the update was the basic text of the congress or the “Theological and Pastoral Reflections in Preparation for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.” It is a lengthy treatise on the Eucharist and the Church’s mission. Continue reading →

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New #30DayChallenge: Write in Markdown

I’ve always wanted to learn and start using Markdown in writing. For some time, it hovered near the top of my to-do list but I never got around to actually starting to use it.

I use a Markdown-capable online writing tool – Editorially – but I never used it for that. I used it purely to manage articles and to allow me to work on a post in multiple workstations.

When I write, I compose only in plain text. As soon as I’d finish the article, I’d go over the post again and manually code the HTML tags for blog or website publishing.

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Parrot voice record BlackBerry Z10

Parrot is great voice recording app for BlackBerry Z10

Parrot voice record BlackBerry Z10

PARROT ON BLACKBERRY Z10. Parrot is a beautifully-designed app that produces very clear audio recordings. (Photo by Max Limpag)

As a journalist, I use my phone extensively for news gathering. Apart from it being my camera, the phone is also my main voice recorder for interviews. I still carry an MP3 voice recorder but this serves only as backup, the quality of recording in smartphones is so much higher.

Whenever I set up a phone, one of the first apps I install is a voice recorder. On Android, my favorite voice recording application is Easy Voice Recorder, which has a free version that more than meets my needs. On iOS, my favorite voice recording app is iTalk, which produces clear and great quality recordings.

On the BlackBerry Z10, which uses the company’s BlackBerry 10 platform, I find Parrot to be the best voice recording application.

Parrot is easy to use and the user interface is beautiful and minimal. It’s easy to use the app for recording.

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News writing: 5Ws, GPS

When fire broke out in Barangay Tejero late Saturday afternoon, I was dragged to the scene by my wife, who wanted to cover it for her news blog and as trial for the system of Yahoo! Philippines’ foray into local news.

I can no longer recall the last time I covered a fire for news. But it was definitely before mobile Internet became as ubiquitous as it is today. I think it was also before I had a wife who would drag me to a fire scene.

Amid the panic of people trying to save what they could as they accounted for family members and friends, we posted updates through our phones, took photos and videos.

Saturday’s experience taught me a lot about the speed by which the technological juggernaut changes the way we do things, especially in reporting for a quickly-evolving online media landscape.

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Reporter’s notebook

I finally got my Asus Eee PC last Wednesday. It has, since then, replaced my main writing gear: an MSI S260 laptop running on Ubuntu Linux.

Several reporters and editors in Sun.Star Cebu had wanted to purchase an Eee PC since the start of the year but we couldn’t get a supplier with enough stocks to provide the initial 10 purchases. Cebu shops, I was told repeatedly, had waiting lists for purchases.

Asus Eee PC, Moleskine, Sony Ericsson P1i TRULY MOBILE OFFICE. Trying to beat a column deadline using the Asus Eee PC in a beachsite resort in Argao. These are my mobile work tools: the Asus Eee PC, a Moleskine reporter’s notebook, and a Sony Ericsson P1i. Click on photo to enlarge.

The two boxes of Asus Eee PC arrived at the office last Wednesday. We got the 4G model. I chose the pearl white version but at the back of my mind, I was still thinking of the Lush Green version of the 2G model.

For such a small device, the Asus Eee PC packs a formidable arsenal: Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity, 3 USB ports, a built-in webcam (4G and 8G models), a VGA port for external displays, built-in stereo speakers and a microphone, and a built-in MMC/SD card reader. Any more feature and it could probably write a story for you. But it’s best feature, I think, is that it runs on Linux.

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Going to school—Drupal school

I’ve been studying Drupal these past months. Drupal is a highly-regarded open source content management system (CMS) that can run anything from a single-person website to a community portal. There’s even a Newspapers on Drupal group for people using the CMS for their news websites.

Drupal school NOW SHOWING. I’ve downloaded Elliott Rothman’s video tutorial series on Drupal. Rothman’s tutorials are really helpful for newbies who want to learn how to use Drupal as content management system. Click on photo to enlarge.

Drupal, unlike many other open source CMS, seems to be much more technically challenging to use, especially for non-geeks like me who can’t program.

It took me a couple of months of studying and experimenting with WordPress to be able to confidently make it work for a project the way I wanted it to work. WordPress can be used to run a news or magazine website and I’ve done this for several projects. I am also currently writing a new article on how to use WordPress to run a news website and will be releasing a new theme for it. It’s for a personal project that I was supposed to launch this weekend but got delayed by work deadlines.

While I love WordPress and have been using it for most of my personal projects, I want to learn how to use Drupal extensively because I see it as the better CMS for larger, more complex, and community-oriented web projects. Some of the sites running Drupal are The Onion, MTV UK, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Exposure, and The New York Observer.

The New York Observer’s use of Drupal is particularly noteworthy because its development team discussed how they did it in this article on the relaunch of the newspaper site using Drupal.

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Turn your mobile phone into a document scanner with Scanr app

I would give anything to have had this Scanr tool a decade ago when, as a beat reporter, I had to frequently photocopy documents for news stories. When I was still covering the Cebu City Hall beat, I did a series of news reports that exposed illegal collection of fees and various other transactions disallowed by government auditors. These stories were from documents officials never intended to be released to the media.

Scanr mobile application STEP 1. Scan the document using your phone camera. Fill as much of the phone screen with the document you want processed. Click on photo to view larger image.

I had a City Hall source whom I befriended after weeks of offering free cigarettes (there, smoking can do something good) at the hallway. We became such good cigarette break friends that I started asking him for documents officials did not want released.

How to use scanr STEP 2. Start the application. It will open with an image gallery. Browse the photos and look for the images you want processed. Click on photo for larger image.

The source would alert me during our cigarette breaks whenever a document I requested was already available. I’d then go to the press room, get a brown envelope, go to the comfort room and get the documents from him. I’d then rush to the photocopier and, while chewing on my nails, wait for her to finish copying the papers. I’d then go back to the City Hall comfort room and then return the papers.

Using scanr to scan documents STEP 3. Click on a photo and mark whether it is a document, business card, or a whiteboard snapshot. Click on photo to view larger image.

In one of these exchanges, I panicked because the source said I should return the papers immediately but I wasn’t able to find a vacant copier near City Hall. I had to cross several blocks.

Looking back while playing with Scanr these past days made me think how easier things might have been for me using the service and its mobile application.

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Using phones to capture data from whiteboards, cards, documents

I’ve been meaning to try the services of scanR for a long time but somehow I’ve been pretty successful in avoiding meetings–and those I attended didn’t use whiteboards–that I somehow forgot about it.

scanr WHITEBOARD DATA processed by scanR. Compare it with the original photograph below. Images processed by scanR are great for printing as handouts. Click on photo to enlarge.

I was finally able to try it yesterday. Metro Cebu staged a dry run yesterday of the traffic re-routing to be implemented during the Asean Summit in Cebu. As is usual with major news events, reporters and editors held a story conference to thresh out news angles, discuss gathered data, and look for issues to follow up.

Sol Amante, our managing editor for news and the writer behind Peryodistang Pinay, presided over the story conference using a whiteboard to take down notes. She was about to copy her notes on paper after the meeting when I told her I’d reprint it using scanR.

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How to use WordPress to run a magazine, news website

WordPress is a great tool for online writers. It’s simple and yet is such a pleasure to use. Yes, there are things that need to be improved but WordPress being an open source software, you can expect continuous improvements on it by the community.

The ease by which sites can be created and run through blogging software like WordPress allow writers previously without publishers to print their works online. The problem with using a blogging software to manage your website, however, is that the tool defines the character of your site.

Once in a while, I see blogs that seem better off presented as online magazines or news websites rather than as blogs.

WordPress, however, is an extensible website content management system that can be used to run magazine-type websites. Here are steps I took to turn this online magazine on Cebu from a blog into its current presentation. I’m still working on it, though, so you might encounter issues. (Update Jan. 9, 2008: I have redesigned the site. It’s now using an even better theme that I’m still working on. I will be releasing this theme soon.)

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Running a newsroom intranet on Ubuntu, MediaWiki and a discarded PC

When the newsroom replaced aging computers used by reporters for word processing last year, I salvaged one central processing unit, a pair of RAM modules and the biggest hard disk of the lot with the intention of putting up a newsroom intranet server.

I eventually built a newsroom intranet server using various open source PHP/MySQL scripts. The intranet used as portal Mambo CMS with various other scripts serving as online news writing style guide, news sources contacts database and online classroom. The intranet was running on Windows with XAMPP, a package that simplifies the installation of Apache, PHP and MySQL. (Click on photos to view larger images)

Sun.Star Cebu newsroom intranetThe setup is a pain to maintain: you have to check individual packages for updates and one of the scripts was no longer being updated, the last time I checked. The use of different packages also means that users have to sign up for individual sections of the intranet: for the portal, style guide, contacts and the e-learning package. Users are also presented with different user interfaces. The setup was asking too much from its users.

The server never really took off as I was bogged down in trying to find ways to have a single login for the system.

A few weeks back, I decided to run MediaWiki on Ubuntu to replace the abandoned setup. (Note: screenshots will be added after Zooomr launches version 2.0 of its site)

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