Notational Velocity as a cross-machine clipboard

My work very often involves dealing with text inside PDF files. I need to copy large chunks of text by selecting it in the PDF, then transferring it to a text editor, like BBEdit or TextWrangler (both by Bare Bones Software). To handle PDF, I’ve happily used Skim for years, and sometimes Preview. But at times I’ve encountered a couple of problems with both applications: first, some PDFs present a complex layout where text is wrapped around images or otherwise mixed with graphic elements on the page in a way that is difficult or impossible to select it in the correct paragraph sequence, so I end up with butchered or incomplete sentences, missing blocks of text, etc. Second, sometimes I receive PDFs where the text isn’t even selectable and all the pages are treated as a series of scanned images — I can’t select anything in there.

I have found that I can avoid both these problems by using an older version of Adobe Acrobat Professional (6.0.5, I believe) that I purchased a few years back. Now, this older version is a PowerPC application and I can’t use it anymore under Mac OS X Lion. So I installed it on my Power Mac G4 Cube and my PowerBook G4 12″, and when I need to handle some problematic PDFs, I do the work on these older Macs. The annoying thing is that when the work is done, I have to pass the text back to my main machine, the MacBook Pro.

The title of this article is quite self-explanatory. I wanted to share this little trick I’ve found rather useful in my workflow, to quickly copy-and-paste text across different machines. It’s nothing exceptional, and I’m sure it can be done in other ways and using different solutions. You could easily use Dropbox or some equivalent service, create a text file on Machine A, sync the file on Machine B, and then copy/paste the text you want to use. (Or iCloud, of course). With my method, you don’t even have to create a file: 

  1. Install Notational Velocity on all the machines you plan to use to move text. If you haven’t one already, create a new Simplenote account and have Notational Velocity connect with it. (Go to Preferences > Synchronization and tick the ‘Synchronize with Simplenote’ checkbox, then enter your Simplenote account details). Of course you’ll have to do this on every machine.
  2. Create a new empty note and give it a name. Let’s call it Textboard, for example.
  3. Copy the text on Machine A and paste it in the Textboard note in Notational Velocity.
  4. On Machine B, launch Notational Velocity if it’s not yet open. Thanks to the Simplenote synchronisation, you should see the Textboard note and the copied text appear. On my systems, I’ve set Notational Velocity to check for remote changes every minute (this option is in Preferences > Synchronization as well, bottom of the window), so notes update rather instantaneously.
  5. Copy the text on Machine B and paste it wherever you need it.

Once set up, this process is quicker to perform than it is to explain. Basically, it’s like using Notational Velocity (+ Simplenote) to teleport text across machines. I find this quite useful also when I start some work on a Mac and continue working on another. And since Notational Velocity supports rich-format text, I don’t even lose text formatting. Another advantage is that the latest version of Notational Velocity (which supports Simplenote synchronisation) runs on older Mac OS X versions, as old as 10.4 Tiger, so I can use this cross-machine clipboard trick even with older Macs. It also works with Macs with Mac OS X 10.3 or earlier, but instead of installing Notational Velocity, you just use the Simplenote Web app in a browser. How’s that for flexibility?

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!