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.


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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.


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Macro to load remote images in macOS Mail.app

I recently changed my Mail.app settings so that images in mail messages are not loaded automatically. Until the new privacy features in macOS Monterey roll out, I made this change to avoid some tracking by spammers (and mailer services). (You can find this setting in Mail > Preferences > Viewing)

However, I quickly grew tired of having to click the "Load remote content" (sic) button to display legit message properly. If there were a menu command for this (ahem, Apple) it would be simple to use a keyboard shortcut to accomplish this. Unfortunately, clicking is the only way to interact with this control.

When I searched the 'net for solutions, I found several complex AppleScript solutions to the problem. (You'll find them, too.) But these didn't appeal to me at all, so I turned to the excellent Keyboard Maestro instead. It turned out to be a stupidly simple problem to solve, as you can see in the one-step macro below.

macro by gordon meyer

Enjoy!

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

Hue headaches when traveling

I like Philips Hue lights — they form a mostly reliable branch in my standalone home automation strategy. (In other words, I don’t use them with HomeKit, but only because I prefer isolated systems for reliability. Keep reading for why.)

Unfortunately, the Hue system has a serious flaw that can bite you in the ass when you’re traveling. Namely, the hub firmware and the control/scheduling app have to remain in sync, but you can’t update the hub remotely.

So, when you’re away from home, never allow your Hue app to update itself. Doing so could create a situation where your entire Hue system is disabled until you return home and update the hub, too.

Until Philips fixes this, live in fear of an automatic update, or simply don’t rely on Hue as a key part of your home automation system. (See first paragraph, above.)


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

Bit Rot Chronicles

Some of my non-technical friends may not be familiar with “Bit Rot.” The term refers to how software tends to stop working as it gets older. This is often caused by changes in operating systems and other parts of the complicated infrastructure that supports an application. A second meaning of “Bit Rot” refers to how stored data eventually becomes unreadable. This might be because the media is no longer supported (refer to the first meaning), or because the media has degraded and there is a physical problem that prevents it from being read.

This is a tale of both meanings.

I recently discovered that my beloved collection of clip art is completely unreadable on modern Mac computers. I purchased “Art Explosion 525,000” at the 1998 San Francisco Mac World Expo. I think I paid about $75 for the CD-ROM set of clip art and other licensed resources. I have used it for countless projects since then, and in some ways it may be the best return I’ve ever gotten for an impulse purchase of software.

One reason I’ve kept returning to it is that the images on the discs are indexed in a massive (1400 page) book that makes it easy to find just the right asset.

open book held by gordon meyer

(Historical note: Yes, people actually used to buy clip art collections. This was at least three years before the introduction of Google Image searching, which of course, is where everyone steals artwork from today. I sleep well at night knowing my clip art is completely legit.)

Unfortunately, the thirty-seven CDs (this was also prior to computer having DVD drives) are in a format that Macs can no longer read. (Bit Rot in the first sense of the word.) When I discovered this, I immediately started the time-consuming task of copying the CDs to a hard disk. Fortunately, I still have an older Mac that can read the discs.

But, I couldn’t copy all of them. Bit Rot in the second sense of the word reared its ugly head as I discovered that some discs suffered from read errors. Optical media like CD-ROMs once promised to be “permanent” data stores. Alas, just as with Lasik surgery, time has revealed that nothing lasts forever.

But with persistence, and by using an even older Mac, and I could recover nearly all the files. (Let’s hope I never want to use the file “Coffee Cup 126” in a project.)

Some tips, in case you’re ever faced with a similar situation:

  • Patience is a virtue. As long as the disc is spinning, let it churn. One disc took over 3 hours to mount!
  • The external Apple SuperDrive does not have a manual eject, you simply have to wait for it to give up and eject the disc.
  • Don’t bother copying files in obscure formats that rely on old software. Each of these discs had an Extensis Portfolio image database, which is an app I didn’t even know was still around. (I wonder if it will read catalogs created 23 years ago. Given the first definition of Bit Rot, probably not.)
  • Here’s a measure of technological progress: The entire 37 disc set easily fits on one (32 GB) thumb drive, with room to spare.
  • I’m going to keep the printed directory of images, of course, so I may as well keep the discs too. It looks like there might even be a collector’s market for the set.

Have I made you nervous about the viability of your old family photos on CDs that you burned yourself? I hope so.

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

Using Apple TV mute function with a Sonos Playbase

If you have the latest Apple TV Siri Remote (the one with the Mute button) and a Sonos Playbase speaker, you may find that Mute doesn’t work. Briefly, the solution is to set the Apple TV to use the Playbase as an AirPlay speaker. If you use the Playbase as a wired speaker, depending on your TV, the Mute might not be a permitted action. (I have a Sony Bravia TV, which treats the Playbase as an external audio system with immutable volume settings.) Switch to AirPlay, though, and all is well.

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

Rewriting What’s New in Word

The latest version of Microsoft Word is displaying a shockingly poor “what’s new” message at first launch. I worked closely with the user documentation folks at Microsoft when they were first implementing Apple Help, and they were smart and careful folks, so I’m pretty confident this text was written by a junior engineer. But I have no idea how it made it past QA and product marketing.

MS Word screenshot of bad text

In the spirit of Usable Help, here’s a rewrite, which I’m sure could be further improved, but the first pass is free of charge.

View writing suggestions with a click

To see spelling, grammar, and other suggestions for improving your writing, Control-Click on a word. Other options available include Add to Dictionary, Smart Lookup, Synonyms, and more.

Note: I tried to figure out what “show context” meant in the original text, but couldn’t find it. Also, all the functions mentioned are available via the same pop-up menu so not only is their text hard to follow, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong. Personally, I’d drop the second sentence completely as it’s just a laundry list that muddies the water, but I kept it for contrast with the original.


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

Keep your vaccination card in Notes

Once you have your COVID-19 vaccination card from the CDC (and you do have one, right?) some people are recommending that you take a photo of it, so you have a copy on your iPhone.

That’s not a bad idea, and will probably serve you well until the government comes up with a more uniform (and secure) method of proving your vaccinated. (As a small business owner, I hope they hurry and do so.)

I think a better idea, though, is to use the iPhone scanner feature to save an image of the card in the Notes app. Briefly:

  1. Open Notes, then tap the New Note button.
  2. Enter a heading for the note, such as “COVID Vaccine.”
  3. Tap the Camera button in the Notes app, then tap Scan Document.

When you’re done, you’ll have a nice tidy scan of your vaccination card. (You might as well scan both sides of it, or better yet, scan your loved ones’ cards, so you have them handy if needed.)

This method is better than just snapping a photo because the scanner creates a better copy. Also, thanks to the heading you added to the note, now you can find it a lot faster than if it were just one of a zillion pictures in the Photos app. Just type “covid” or “vaccine” into the iPhone search field, and it pops right up. Easy-peasy.


Covid note in Notes app being searched

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

Working around fuzzy PDFs from Shortcuts

Thanks to Readly and Apple News+, I read many magazines on my iPad, and sometimes I want to save an article for future reference. To accomplish this, I capture a screenshot of each of the article’s pages. However, this clutters up my Photos, and the pages can get separated from each other over time. Definitely not ideal.

What I need is a way to stitch these pages together into one document. The only satisfactory way I’ve found to do that is to collate the screenshots into a multi-page PDF.

It seems like a Shortcuts action to automate this process would be a good approach, but it’s not. The only reason this doesn’t work is that the built-in “Make PDF” action in Shortcuts compresses the crap out of images and makes them completely unreadable. Here’s a screenshot that demonstrates the mess it creates.

fuzzy pdf from Shortcuts

The best alternative approach I’ve found is to select each screenshot in Photos, then tap Share > Print. (You don’t actually need a printer.) When the printer selector screen appears, pinch out on the preview of your document. Then, with the preview displaying full-screen, tap Share and select a destination, such as Files or Mail. This will save a high-fidelity PDF. Look how lovely it is by comparison with the abomination from Shortcuts:

clear pdf

Once you’ve saved the PDF in this manner, discard it by tapping Cancel. You’re done, and now you have a perfectly usable PDF tucked away. You can go ahead and delete the original screenshots from Photos.

It’s a shame this can’t be automated, but at least we have a workaround until Apple improves Shortcuts with better output.

By the way, the ability to save a print preview was a gem from a previous version of the Tips.app. Have you read a tip today?

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

Upgrading to eero 6 and HomeKit

A quick word of caution. Although I’m a fan of eero (starting before Amazon bought them), if you’re a HomeKit user, there is an obvious oversight in their software of which you should be aware.

Replacing an old eero device with a new one is easy using the eero app. But, when you delete the old device, the unit is not removed from HomeKit. And once the device is removed from your network, you can’t delete it from your home. You’ll be forever stuck with error messages about “non-responsive” devices in your Home app.

eero homekit error

eero tech support confirms that there is no way to fix this after the units are decommissioned. Clearly, their software should either do this for you automatically, or alert you before you shoot yourself in the foot. But it does neither. Fair warning.

See also: eero Beacon Deployed, and Inconsistent eero Speed Test Results Explained.


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