Using Markdown with WordPress

Since writing this article, Michel Fortin has announced that he is going to stop including WordPress plugin functionality in Markdown Extra. Click here to read a more recent article that explains how to cope with this news.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting hits for Markdown-related searches on Google, ever since I wrote a blog post about the browser extension called Footnotify. When I saw Footnotify I instantly knew I wanted to have that functionality on my own website, and so I started searching for a WordPress plugin that provided footnotes. Eventually, I decided that it would be worth using Markdown to achieve this effect, after seeing the footnotes on Daring Fireball, and set about getting this arranged.

The first step was finding a way to install Markdown on WordPress1. I searched on the website for an extension to do this, but couldn’t find an ‘official’ one, so I searched on Markdown-Discuss (the mailing list set up by John Gruber) to see whether I was mistaken. It turned out I was, although the plugin that I’d recommend isn’t listed on the WordPress website: since WordPress is based in PHP, and since Michel Fortin has written Markdown Extra for PHP, one can just download PHP Markdown Extra from his website and upload it to WordPress as a plugin.

A screenshot of an FTP client displaying the file path of PHP Markdown Extra in my WordPress configuration.

The process is easy. Once the zip file has downloaded, simply unzip it. You’ll be presented with a folder containing three files: two in .text format (one of the accepted file extensions for plaintext files that contain Markdown syntax) and one PHP file. I renamed the folder to php-markdown-extra and then uploaded it to my WordPress installation (the filepath is wordpress/wp-content/plugins). WordPress then sees this as a plugin, and so you’re ready to roll!

But what should you use to edit your Markdown text? Initially, I tried a Mac app for Markdown called Valletta, which didn’t impress me. One of the key features of Markdown that I adore is its ability to turn -- into — and turn 'typewriter quotation marks' into ‘typographic quotation marks’. Valletta doesn’t implement this part of Markdown, so I don’t recommend it. However, the beauty of Markdown is that it’s just plain text with specific syntax, and so you can feel free to use the plaintext editor of your choice. Personally, I flit between Textwrangler, on the Mac and Notepad++, on Windows. Both apps can be configured to highlight Markdown syntax2, and I’m actually using TextWrangler to write this post.

A screenshot of this article, being rendered by Elements, the iOS plain text editor.

Although I don’t use a specific app on my computers, I have http://www.mindanews.com/buy-inderal/ found a rather good app on my iPhone. An iOS app by the name of Elements, it started life as a simple plaintext editor that supported Dropbox as a filesystem, but has since gained the ability to preview Markdown-formatted text and also copy the HTML generated as a result, for use in other apps.3 Elements is really good in a variety of ways: Dropbox sync is chief amongst them, but the ability to choose what file extension you give to Markdown files is also a very nice touch. It allows you to choose which folder on your Dropbox you want to synchronise4, too. Find it on the App Store here (£2.99/$4.99).

Lastly, let’s return to Footnotify. Markdown Extra allows for easy footnote creation, and Footnotify complements this brilliantly — I use both the Chrome extension and the JavaScript that provides the overlays on this blog. It will work whether you’re using Markdown on your blog directly or generating footnotes on your own. If you like what it’s doing for your browsing experience on my blog, you should definitely download it and give it a try with your own website!

I am glad that I got the desire to try Markdown because I feel it really has enhanced my writing. For me, the main benefits are the syntax, which makes certain tasks (bullet points, linking, footnotes) much easier. For the reader, the better formatted text brings something to the design of the website, whereas the footnotes mean that my frequent desire to wander off the topic is nowhere near as aggravating as it might be. I’d definitely recommend Markdown to anyone who writes online, even if it’s relatively infrequently.


  1. If you’re using WordPress.com, installing plugins is not possible and so this won’t apply to you — sorry! However, you can still use a Markdown app to export HTML and paste it into WordPress, so keep reading. 
  2. Notepad++ may need you to roll a user-defined language definition, but there are such things available online. There’s even this handy article on how to generate HTML from Markdown
  3. I mostly use this feature when posting to my LiveJournal, but if you’re running a WordPress.com blog then it will also be very useful! 
  4. I have all my text files in a folder called PlainText, named after the free editor that also syncs with Dropbox. I recommend that one, if you’re just looking for an editor without Markdown editing. Find it on the App Store here (free). 

Retina Display: The apps that don’t use it

The iPhone 4 brought a myriad of improvements to the product on its release in the summer of 2010. It had a better camera, a better processor, a vastly improved chassis — but I think one of the most obvious and most pronounced features was the Retina Display. This was a technology that increased the resolution of the iPhone’s screen from 480×320 to 940×640 (thus doubling the pixel resolution from 163 ppi to 326 ppi). This was matched by a problem: Every app was now blurry and it took time for developers to react to the new technology.

I didn’t upgrade to the iPhone 4, instead waiting for the iPhone 4S, and so by the time I was using a Retina Display, most apps had been updated to use sharper graphics and textures. When I did upgrade, some of my apps still hadn’t been updated to the higher resolution, and so I faced a choice between deleting them or keeping using them. In most cases, I found other apps that had been updated to work with the new technology, but a handful of apps remained despite their blurry graphics.

iStat by Bjango

A screenshot from the Bonjour feature of iStat showing my iMac's statistics.
My iMac, through iStat

Bjango is one of my favourite developers in the Apple community. iStat is an iOS version of their unparalleled Mac app with the same name, and it’s a well-designed app indeed. Opening the app gives you a choice of devices; either the iOS device you’re using or any number of devices found via Bonjour. Getting a device to show up via Bonjour is simple: just install iStat Server from the app’s webpage and you’re ready to monitor statistics.

Select the iOS device, and you get a screen showing you various statistics. Firstly (and least usefully) is a battery readout. This gives you a percentage of the remaining battery; given that this information is already available at the top of the screen, it isn’t terribly useful. Alongside the readout are estimates of how much usage that will permit, which may be useful if you aren’t used to your device’s battery life yet. Another stat is the remaining hard drive space, which is similarly already available through the operating system.

Elsewhere within the statistics, one can see a variety of things that aren’t already in Settings.app. Your device’s IP addresses — both the network’s IP and the IP on any Wi-Fi network — are available, as are the Wi-Fi MAC address and your iPhone’s UDID1. iStat can also give you the uptime and load of your device, which are interesting, if not useful on a regular basis. A pie chart shows the amount of RAM being used and how much is free — if your device is acting up, checking the remaining RAM might give a clue to the problem. This is in addition to a list of your iPhone’s currently running processes, so you will be able to see which apps are doing things in the background.

What are the minus points with iStat? It doesn’t remember where you were if you switch to a different app and then back, which really annoyed me whilst I was writing this review but may be much less aggravating in general use. Also, when I first got the app, it contained a way to free up the iPhone’s RAM, which was removed in an update that got skewered by the App Store’s reviewers — given that this feature is now available in other apps, it’d be nice to see it return to iStat.

Find iStat on the App Store here (£0.69/$0.99).

Detexify

A picture I drew of the Greek letter rho in Detexify.
Trying to find rho.

I use LaTeX2, and so this app is very useful from my perspective. If you don’t use LaTeX, then this very possibly won’t be useful for you!

The list of results for my drawing of rho from Detexify.
Results for rho!

What Detexify does is simple. It allows the user to sketch a character on the screen. It then takes that squiggle and finds a list of symbols available that match it, alongside the name of the package they are in and how to use them in a document. It’s terrifically handy if you’re trying to write a scientific paper. It’s also fairly handy for looking up what Greek characters are called, even if you’re not using LaTeX.

Detexify is available from the App Store in a free or a paid version; the paid version lets you contribute a little to the developer as a ‘thank you’, but otherwise there is no difference between the two. An alternative way to donate is to visit the Detexify website and donate through the provided links (this will mean Apple doesn’t get a cut of your donation).

Find Detexify on the App Store here (free).
Alternatively, buy the Supporter Version (£0.69/$0.99).

iSeismometer by ObjectGraph

A screenshot of iSeismometer, showing motion in all axes.
Earthquake!

This app from ObjectGraph is pretty much self-explanatory: it allows your iPhone to act as a seismometer, with measurements of the movement in the x-, y- and z-axis. Rest it on a table, and tap/shake/tilt the surface to see what it can do. This is an amazing app for demonstrating some of the capabilities present in the iPhone’s hardware, as well as being an excellent way to demonstrate the science of seismology to people who aren’t very knowledgable about it3, and so it stays on my phone despite the fact that the icon and buttons are somewhat pixellated.

Whilst researching this application, I’ve noticed that there are other seismometer apps available in the App Store, but that this is definitely the best free app available despite the non-Retina graphics. However, given a couple of the others are only 69p, I may well try a different one to see whether it converts me!

Find iSeismometer on the App Store here (free).

Galaxy Zoo by Zooniverse

If you haven’t heard of Galaxy Zoo, this may not appeal to you as much as it otherwise would; however, it’s a nice little app. It doesn’t let you do much other than look at images of galaxies and analyse them using the limited set of multiple-choice questions that’s familiar to any Galaxy Zoo user. However, that still means you can make useful contributions to physics whilst standing in the queue at the bank, so it’s definitely worth a look.

Find Galaxy Zoo on the App Store here (free).

SUBCARD® by Subway

SUBCARD® is Subway’s loyalty card app in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland4. One can either have a physical card, or download the app, which has a barcode used to load points onto your account. As well as this, the locations of nearby branches of the chain can be ascertained. If you go to Subway often5, it’s probably worth a look, but if not, there really isn’t anything else to it.

Find SUBCARD® on the App Store here (free).

Arriva m-Ticket

A screenshot from the Arriva app on the ticket selection screen.
Which ticket?

Somewhat strangely, the Arriva m-Ticket app actually got released — with non-Retina graphics — after the iPhone 4 came out. It allows the user to buy tickets for Arriva buses on their mobile phone; since Arriva operate buses near me, I have the app on my phone. It allows for the purchase of tickets on a variety of timescales in areas that Arriva works in (but a ticket in one area presumably won’t transfer to others). Choose a day ticket, opt for a week’s worth of travel or get the whole year in one go.

Having said all that, my experience has taught me that Arriva’s buses have something in common with this app: they were outdated when they were new and they’re never on time. As such I still haven’t actually used the app to travel anywhere and may need to review it again when I’ve actually had a chance to analyse it in use.

Find Arriva m-Ticket on the App Store here (free).


  1. Now that UDID is being deprecated by Apple, this may change in the near future. 
  2. Specifically, MacTeX, which I rather like. 
  3. To be fair, that could very well describe me. 
  4. I don’t know if similar apps exist outside of these two territories, so I apologise to anyone for whom this is unhelpful. 
  5. According to this app, the last time I visited was in 2010: I hadn’t realised it had been that long! 

Stolen iPhone

If you follow me on Twitter, or we’re friends on Facebook, then you may well be aware that my iPhone 4S got stolen on the evening of 10th April. I was with my girlfriend at a bus stop, and someone grabbed it from my hands and sprinted away. It was a surprisingly harrowing experience — given that no physical damage was done to either of us — and not one I want to repeat in the near future. I’m bringing it up here to address some of the concerns I stumbled across between it being stolen and restoring from a backup.

Dealing with the theft

A screenshot of the list of devices I can find on Apple's iCloud.
Find My iPhone

I have heard so many stories about people finding their phone’s thief via Apple’s Find my iPhone service (available as an iOS app or from the iCloud website). After calling the police, I immediately logged into the service, but my iPhone was reported as being offline. You can send a message to your handset even if it isn’t showing up, and you can ask it to send you an email next time the iPhone’s location is found. I ticked the relevant boxes and decided to hope an email came through. When the police arrived they took my Apple ID (email and password) to try and use the same service.1

As well as taking my Apple ID details, the police wrote down my statement, and also walked me through processes like cancelling the SIM card. They have a list of phone numbers for all the major British mobile networks, and so I was able to phone my provider, Three. They were able to cancel the SIM that had been in my phone, and a new one was put into the mail for me. The next step was to lodge an insurance claim, which I did the next morning. After I’d sorted all the annoying parts out (talking to the police, the phone company and the insurance company), I started to delve into the tech aspects of what I could do.

Securing the phone

The first thing I did was limit the access the phone had to various web services that I use. I started with Gmail, since it literally contains every email I’ve received over the last eight years and there’s potentially a goldmine of personal information to be found there. Fortunately, I use something called two factor authentication on my account2. This means you need a code and the password in order to access my account. This makes me a lot safer from people trying to access it online. It also means that any apps that can’t use this system (for example, the iPhone’s Mail client) have to use a specially generated password to access my account, which I was able to revoke, thus cutting off the thief’s potential access (I also cut him off from my YouTube account, which was possibly less urgent).

Another step I took with Gmail was to close any open sessions that I have, and force every computer other than my laptop to ask for my password and authentication code next time I tried to use it. This was a bit of a pain, but it meant the thief would not be able to access my email at all on my phone. I did the same with my Facebook account, and I changed the password on my work email address so that it would be inaccessible.

Losing my data

When I returned home, I looked at iPhoto and iTunes, because I wanted to see what the backup status of the phone was. I checked Photo Stream, which showed that the photographs I had taken the previous day had uploaded to iCloud, but the photographs I had taken on the day the phone was stolen had been lost. Since I uploaded a few to Instagram on my travels, they’re not totally gone, but it’s still a little irritating. I also checked the iPhone’s profile in iTunes to see when the last iCloud backup had been. It told me 4th April, about a week prior to the theft; it was roughly coincident with the last time I’d plugged my phone into my Mac to charge. That was more annoying, since a week is a lot of lost data!

A train operated by CrossCountry Trains speeding through a station.
CrossCountry Trains

The most annoying thing to lose was the Train Tickets app by CrossCountry Trains. They’ve just started charging £1 to get tickets from self-service machines in train stations, and the only free delivery option is now something called an m-ticket. This sends a barcode (which is your ticket) to the app, and you show it on the train when asked for your ticket. This is all very well, but if your phone has been stolen, it presents obvious issues. I rang CrossCountry and selected the appropriate options to talk about an existing reservation, and was put through to an overseas call centre.

I explained my situation, said I was willing to pay a surcharge for one of the non-free delivery methods, and asked whether my ticket could be resent to me. I was told no. Asking to speak to a supervisor got me nowhere, and eventually the sales rep gave me the complaints centre phone number (she couldn’t transfer me because it’s a UK-based call centre) and I hung up. Upon ringing them, I was told that there was indeed something they could do: just install the app on another device. Ring the complaints centre, and give them the new app’s Download ID, and they can transfer the ticket. If you’re ever in this situation, bear that in mind!3

Replacing the phone

A photograph of a Nokia 3510i on a desk.
Nokia 3510i.

Fast forward to today, and, after using a Nokia 3510i4 for the better part of a week, I had the conversation with my insurance company that enabled me to go and buy my replacement iPhone 4S. I plugged my new SIM card in as soon as I got home, went through the setup, and input my Apple ID details expecting to see the backup from two weeks ago show up. Instead, it reported that there were no backups.

Instantly, an icy sensation ran through me. What do you mean by no backups?

I checked iTunes to see whether there were any backups on my Mac, as opposed to on iCloud — no such luck. I then checked the iCloud panel in System Preferences, and it told me I had 1GB of space used for a backup made on 11th April, the day my phone was stolen5. Somewhat reassured that the issue should at least be a solvable one, I Googled, and found a very enlightening Apple Discussions thread. Imagine you have an iPhone running a new version of iOS, and you make a backup. If you then try to restore that backup to an iPhone running an older version, it turns out that iCloud will report you have no backups, with no further error nor explanation. This is a total travesty of user experience, and something that Apple badly need to work on.6

My iPhone 4S, before it was stolen, was running iOS 5.1, the latest version. The replacement I was given was running an older version. I selected ‘Set the iPhone up as a new phone’, selected to skip inputting my iCloud details and skipped as many steps as possible until iTunes showed the iPhone and I was able to register the handset and update the software to iOS 5.1. I then restored the iPhone to its factory settings through iTunes, followed the same steps and my iCloud backup showed up as clear as day.

Now that I’ve restored from that backup, I’ve logged into Find my iPhone and asked it to remotely wipe my iPhone next time it comes online. I also want to try to give Apple its serial number and IMEI number, in case anyone ever takes it to the Genius Bar to get it repaired.

Regardless of any teething problems I may have had, I was just happy to get my phone back up and running. Being without an iPhone was not a great experience for a host of reasons, and having a replacement lets me put this entire sorry mess behind me (as well as allowing me peace of mind regarding the train ticket situation). It could have been a lot worse, and I’m extremely grateful that it wasn’t.


  1. It almost surprised me that the police don’t have a more sophisticated method of tracking phones — something that doesn’t require the victim’s Apple ID password to work. It strikes me that anything like that would cause a huge outpouring of anti-surveillance sentiment. I think it’s good that the police cannot track random people just using their email address, but it does make me wonder whether the system could be improved to allow the police to track phones that have been stolen with the consent of a victim. Maybe that’s just the stuff of pipes. 
  2. There is also a YouTube video that explains two-factor authentication, available from Google Support. The code can be sent via telephone call, text message or smartphone app, so I recommend setting it up if you’re concerned about security. 
  3. Or restore the phone from a backup, and the app will be just as you left it — train tickets and all. 
  4. One review says “The 3510i is not highly recommended, due to software reliability problems and the fact that it’s an old phone with a limited specification: try the newer Nokia 3100 instead.” I thought this was fair enough, but then I noticed that the review was dated 2003. This phone was considered out-of-date nine years ago
  5. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that System Preferences and iTunes gave me dates for the last backup that were a week apart. It’s my theory (and I’d be glad to hear from anyone who could confirm or debunk this) that the “last backed up to iCloud” statistic in iTunes is simply the last backup before the most recent iTunes sync. This is obviously not a useful or reliable indicator of backup status. 
  6. Perhaps the app should show all iOS device backups, greyed out, with a message saying ‘your phone may require an update before being restored from a backup’. Or perhaps iCloud could look at the type of phone, look at backups made by the same type of phone, and then say, “this backup is from a more recent version of iOS, would you like to update this iPhone and then restore from this backup?”. This problem is totally not without obvious solutions, and the fact that it exists at all is not at all like Apple.