Copy Cleanser

Back in August, I introduced you to Plain Clip (   ; www.bluem.net/downloads/plain-clip_en ), a one-trick pony whose one trick happens to be incredibly useful to many people: It strips text of all formatting so you can copy formatted text and then paste it as plain text. I received a lot of good feedback on that recommendation, leading me to the conclusion that some people spend a lot of time “cleaning up” text.

Unfortunately, styled text is often the least of your concerns; a bigger issue is messy text—text copied from an email, website, or PDF that’s littered with odd characters, hard returns, quote marks (>), unnecessary spaces, and who knows what else. If this sounds familiar, you need to check out Unmarked Software’s $25 textSOAP (   ; www.unmarked.com; family and business licenses also available).

As its name implies, textSOAP cleans your text, but much faster than you could ever do using your mouse, arrow keys, and delete key. Simply paste your text into the textSOAP text window and then select your favorite cleaner —a set of rules that tells textSOAP exactly what you want done with your text—and your text is clean as a whistle, ready to be pasted wherever you like. The available cleaners range from the simple to the comprehensive. For example, Spaces replaces multiple contiguous spaces with a single space, Forwarding removes those pesky forwarding characters (>) from email text, and cleaners like Uppercase , Capitalize Words , and Straighten Quotes let you manipulate case and formatting. More complex cleaners include SCRUB , which strips spaces, forwarding characters, line feeds, and paragraphs all at once, as well as converting Hex designations (such as the %20 or =20 gunk you often see in email) to their ASCII equivalents (in this case, a space). It’s quite pleasing to see a mess of forwarded text instantly transform into a nice, neat paragraph.

All of these cleaners are very useful, but what won me over is the ability to create custom cleaners. You can create your own cleaners that include any number of combinations of the following actions, in any order:

  • Apply existing cleaner(s).
  • Find and replace predefined text.
  • Wrap text (generally or at a specific number of characters).
  • “Quote” text (for example, for inclusion in email).
  • Insert text (useful for boilerplates or expanding acronyms).
  • I’ve started using a custom cleaner for writing Mac Gems and it’s a major time saver. For example, after writing an article, I need to replace all quote marks (',") and dashes (--) with the HTML code for their fancy equivalents (’,“, —), as well as convert a few other text items to special characters or graphical equivalents. I’ve set up a custom cleaner to do all this dirty work for me with a single click.

    If having to paste your text into the textSOAP window sounds like a hassle, textSOAP offers at least four other ways to clean text without such a step. In applications that support contextual menus, you simply highlight your text, right/control-click to bring up the contextual menu, and then choose the desired cleaner from the textSOAP item. In applications that support Mac OS X’s Services, you can instead select the desired cleaner from the Services submenu. In supported applications—including BBEdit, MailSmith, and Eudora—textSOAP actually provides a palette listing all your cleaners; just select some text and click a button. Finally, textSOAP is AppleScriptable, so if you frequently work with text in an AppleScript-aware application, you can call textSOAP cleaners from within your scripts—a killer feature for streamlining your workflow.

    If you frequently spend time working with messy text, a little textSOAP makes the cleaning easier. (If you don’t spend any time cleaning up text, trust me: The recipients of your emails and documents will appreciate textSOAP more than you do.)

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