Previewing notes from nvALT in Marked

I find nvALT to be an indispensable note-taking application. I have thousands of plain-text notes, but it’s still incredibly fast and easy to look up a specific note. I also lean heavily on Marked for previewing notes – particularly complex notes with lots of links and images.

Until recently, I’ve been using a Keyboard Maestro macro from Patrick Welker to take a note from nvALT and preview it in Marked. The AppleScript in the macro takes the title of a note, converts it to a filename, and passes the filename to Marked.

That works in about 95% of cases, but I’ve encountered two problems:

  1. OS X does strange things with file separators (the colon and the slash). Having a colon or slash in the title of a note means that it isn’t picked up by this script.
  2. The script assumes that all my notes have the same extension: .md. This is almost always the case, but sometimes notes appear with the .txt or .mdown extension. I could play whack-a-mole with file extensions, but it’s easier to have the script do it for me.

I’ve written a Python script to replace the AppleScript, which seems to solve both of these problems. I’ve been using it for the last few weeks, and now I’d like to share it.

The main part of the script is a function, get_note_path(), which looks up the path to the frontmost note in nvALT. Here it is:

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import os

from applescript import asrun, asquote

NOTEDIR = os.path.join(os.environ['HOME'], 'Dropbox', 'Notes')

def get_note_path():
    """Returns a path to the frontmost note in nvALT."""

    # Get the title of the frontmost note
    title = asrun("""tell application "System Events" to tell process "nvALT"
        get value of text field 1 of group 1 of toolbar 1 of window 1
    end tell""").strip()

    # Escape certain characters in note names to accomodate for the OS X
    # filesystem
    title = title.replace(":", "-")
    title = title.replace("/", ":")

    # Get the filename of the note. I'm assuming that there are not multiple
    # notes with the same title but different file extensions
    for filename in os.listdir(NOTEDIR):
        name, _ = os.path.splitext(filename)
        if name == title:
            filepath = os.path.join(NOTEDIR, filename)
            return filepath

I’m using Dr. Drang’s applescript module to get the title of the note: the AppleScript is just a line taken from Patrick’s script. Since asrun() includes a newline, I have to remove that first.

On lines 15–18, I’m doing the special character replacement. A colon in a note title become a dash in the filename, and a slash becomes a colon. As the colon and the slash are the only path separators on OS X, I think these are the only special cases. (If there are others, I haven’t encountered them yet, and they’re not hard to add.)

(Incidentally, this character replacement is why I wrote my new script in Python, not AppleScript. It’s one line in Python. In AppleScript, it’s more like ten. That basic string manipulations in AppleScript are so hard is one of several reasons why I don’t like it.)

Then on lines 20–24, I look for every file in my notes folder which matches the title of this note. Initially, I wrote if title in ff, but that doesn’t work: the title needs to match exactly, or it’s the wrong note. I’m assuming that while I may have notes with the wrong extension, I’m unlikely to have notes with identical titles and different extensions. I just get the first note that matches.

The second part of the script is much simpler, and taken almost wholesale from Patrick’s original macro:

asrun("""tell application "Marked"
    open %s
    activate
end tell""" % asquote(get_note_path()))

This is just a wrapper around the AppleScript: the asquote() turns the path to the note into an AppleScript-suitable string, and then tells Marked to open the file.

I have this script bound to the same ⇧⌘M shortcut as Patrick’s original macro, to take advantage of muscle memory. Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to post some more of my new macros which use get_note_path(). I have some fun ideas.