Book Review: Death From a Top Hat

First published in 1938, this novel by Clayton Rawson is considered to be one of the finest “locked room mysteries” of the Golden Age. It’s also a “fair play” mystery, in that the reader receives with every bit of information necessary to solve the whodunit, provided that they have their wits about them.

gordon meyer with book

This book is the first in a series of stories around a magician who goes by the name Merlini. As a lauded amateur magician, and leading mystery writer, Rawson combined two of his passions to create the character and series. See his wikipedia entry for much more on this remarkable man.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found the references to magician culture to be both accurate and amusing. (It’s amazing how little it has changed.) There are no spoilers ahead, but here are a few samples of things that I particularly enjoyed:

  • “Half seas over” is an expression meaning “fairly drunk.” This is news to me, but I like it.
  • Referring to a man, one of the characters says, “I think (his) psychopathic ailments included the one called satyriasis, so you may have to question some blondes.”
  • Referring to a woman, one of the characters says, “(She)’s that way; she has considerable difficulty remaining for long in a vertical position.”
  • I loved Rawson’s eclectic footnotes, which either referred to other mystery stories or non-fiction reference material. One of them was for Wicker Park-Bucktown neighbor and Cliff Dweller’s founder, Hamlin Garland, and his book on psychic research.
  • Revealing one of the true secrets of conjuring, Merlini speaks: “That's peanuts for a magician, Inspector. Sometime I'll explain for you the inner workings of a good trick, and show you with what infinitesimal details a conjurer will concern himself. That, in itself, is the whole secret of a number of tricks; the audience overlooks a possible explanation because they don't think the performer would go to all that trouble for a mere trick.”
  • Regarding the sad tendency of magicians becoming wannabe skeptics: “Magicians are prejudiced bigots and wouldn’t admit there was such a thing as magic without trickery, even if they saw it.”
  • I had to suss out a reference to Hauptmann being talkative. It’s about the Lindbergh kidnapping, which would have been common cultural knowledge in 1938.
  • “Conjuring as a hobby appeals most to people with inferiority complexes. And the more they over-compensate the better magicians they make. Even the display of parlor tricks at a party imparts a glow of superiority, quite false of course, but not all of us realize that.”
  • In the final chapter, where the solution to the crime is given, Rawson includes footnotes that detail where the clues were revealed in the text! Such a nice and thoughtful touch. And I’ll only add that if you’re a reader who wants to try to suss out the answer, you best be paying attention early, and throughout.

Rawson’s book has seen various printings, but the best currently available is the American Mystery Classics edition, as it includes an insightful foreword by Otto Penzler. If you’re in NYC, get it from the wonderful Mysterious Bookshop, or of course, the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Chicago America’s Workshop

This 2021 book by Peter N. Pero provides a plethora of photos from Chicago’s industrial era. It’s divided into sections for Heavy Industry, Manufacturing, Food & Beverage, Printing & Publishing, Retailing, Music, and Candy. Each section opens with a brief discussion of the industries and their impact on the city and country.

gordon  meyer holding book

I particularly enjoyed how the book highlights the city’s dominance as the country’s crossroads. The breadth of influence is almost overwhelming, and will certainly give you a renewed appreciation of Chicago’s cultural and economic power.

There are numerous photos, many of which I hadn’t seen before. The captions are helpful, but unfortunately often fail to provide much information about where the company or factory was (or is) located. I would have appreciated more detail in this regard.

As a love letter to the city, and a chronicle of the past, this book is a worthy addition to any Chicagoan’s shelf. I got my copy at Quimby’s in Wicker Park, but of course, you can also find it at the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Firex double beep meaning and replacement

Recently, the Firex smoke and carbon dioxide alarm on the first floor of my home started beeping. It was an unusual double-beep, not the usual low battery sound I’ve heard it make before. (Also unusual is that the beeping started during the day, not in the wee hours of the morning, as is usually the case. Just happenstance, I’m confident, but a welcome change.)

After much searching and reading online, I learned that a Firex double-beep signals that the detector has stopped working and needs to be replaced.

Unfortunately, Firex was absorbed by Kidde a few years ago. (The date of manufacture on my detector was 2004, so it should have been replaced years ago, but seriously, who checks their smoke detectors for an expiration date?)

Thankfully, the Kidde i12010SCO is a replacement for the hard-wired Firex FADC that I had. It just needs a plug adapter to connect to the Firex wires. (The wires power the device, even though it has a battery, and they signal other detectors in the home to sound off when any of the detectors are triggered.)

I opted for this particular Kidde because it has a built-in 10-year Lithium battery, which by the time the battery dies, the detector will have reached its expiration date.

I should mention that even with the necessary wiring adapter, there’s a tiny bit of work involved. The mounting ring that held the Firex needs to be replaced with the one for the Kidde, but in my case, that was just a couple of screws.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Notes from a BeagleBone Black newbie

A long while back, when Radio Shack was going out of business in Cupertino, I picked up a BeagleBone Black to play around with. Thanks to the pandemic, that time has finally come.

I’m confident in my geek credibility, but this thing has really taxed my skills. All the documentation I could find was, if not obtuse, written with a lot of knowledge assumptions. Here, then, are the things that I had to either discover myself, or suss out from a lot of different places.

  • The board has an OS in firmware, so unlike a Raspberry Pi, it will boot up out of the box.
  • If you do install a memory card that contains an updated OS distro, it will boot up from that instead, provided that you flashed the card with the .img and not the .xz file. Don’t believe the misleading documentation that says the etcher will decompress the file for you. It will, but only the .img, not the .xz.
  • Bonus tip: On a Mac, use the great utility BetterZip to decompress the .xz file.
  • Apparently you can update the firmware with the new OS by editing a single line in image’s config file. You will find instructions about how to do this by booting with buttons held down, but that’s the old method. I didn’t try either method as I’m happy running from a 32GB card.
  • The Display connector is a microHDMI port. Not MiniHDMI like the Raspberry Pi Zero. Time to check your junk drawer for yet another obscure adapter.
  • The mDNS (Bonjour) name will be, by default “beagleboard.local” The only user is “root” and there is no password assigned to that account.
  • If all the LEDs on the board are lit up, something went wrong during startup. If you’re trying to run headless (see microHDMI, above) this is the only way to know there’s a problem. When the unit is running correctly one of the LEDs will flash repeatedly in what is supposed to be a “heartbeat” (but if my heart ever beats like that, please call an ambulance).
  • Raspberry Pi users will be pleased to discover that the unit has a power switch.
  • Once booted, the unit is running a web server. This will show you a few details about your device.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the device, altho it comes with a lot of stuff pre-installed and I have no idea what it’s all for. (Now I know how Android phone users feel.)

I made a pleasant discovery about how to create a box to hold the board, which I described previously: Beaglebone Black Card Box

Most of the notes above were written early in the pandemic, and so far my Beaglebone has an uptime of well over 400 days. During that period I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to restart the Raspberry Pi.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

How to Select All and Copy from the iOS Notes app

I use the iOS Notes app to store templated email messages so that I can quickly respond to common enquiries that I receive for my business. This works quite well for me. (I keep them all in a group called “Copy Desk” so that I can find them easily.)

However, Notes doesn’t have an obvious way to select all the text in a note and copy it to the clipboard so that it can be pasted into a reply. In most iOS apps, when you select a bit of text, the pop-up menu that appears includes a Select All command. But, as you can see below, Notes does not.

screenshot from Notes

But there is a way to copy an entire note to the clipboard, it’s just a bit hidden:

Tap the More button (a circle with three dots, in the upper-right corner of the note).

notes screenshot showing location of control

Tap “Send a Copy.”

notes app screenshot

Tap Copy.

notes screenshot

Then switch to Mail and paste into the body of your message.

Alternatively, if you’re creating a new mail message and not replying to an existing one, tap Mail in step 3.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer