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

Covering a doorknob hole

When we moved into our place, the front gate had a deadlock and a locking doorknob. This combination created some usability problems:

  • the doorknob, when locked, could be easily unlocked by reaching through the fence and turning the dial on the inside knob. This made it silly to ever bother to lock it.
  • when the doorknob was unlocked, it would turn (of course) but if the deadlock were locked, the gate still couldn’t be opened. The state of the deadbolt was inscrutable.
  • there’s no indication which way the gate opens. So, even if both locks were not engaged, you had a fifty-fifty chance of the gate opening when you pushed it. If it didn’t open, you couldn’t be sure why.

I quickly noticed that most visitors struggled with these conditions. Pushing, pulling, turning, and so on, never sure if the gate was locked, or if it was some combination of the three possible impediments. (You can view a photo of the gate in this post.)

To correct some of these issues, I removed the doorknob from the gate. But this created an unsightly problem — there was a hole where the knob used to be. Additionally, because the gate is iron, I wanted to cover the hole to prevent water infiltration.

It was inexplicably hard to find, but I did eventually uncover the two solutions I needed. The first is a plate that covers the hole where the doorknob used to be, and the second is a smaller plate that covers where the latching mechanism used to protrude.


doorknob hole cover

Here’s what I purchased:

I can’t recommend the Door Hole Plate Cover that I used because the bolt that comes in the package is too large to fit through the hole in the cover. (What the hell‽) I had to enlarge the hole to make it work. But perhaps you can find another brand that’s properly designed. The Door Edge Filler (not shown in my photo above) fit perfectly, but you’ll need to supply your own screw to install it.

For more on my modifications to this gate, see: A Remote, Wireless Gate Alarm


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: Astronumerography

gordon meyer astronumerology book

The prolific Professor Oddfellow has resurrected (and, I suspect, updated) an ancient form of divination and personality reading that combines astrology with numerology. It’s a deep system, but clearly explained and is based on your birthdate, so the occult mathematics aren’t too intimidating. And the result is a lovely figuregraph that makes utilizing the revelations and insights simple. I especially appreciated both the summary worksheet, and the example readings, that the author includes. (I do wish, though, that blank reading sheets were available for download.) Now that this system has been made accessible to a modern audience I expect to see it offered by psychic readers in most large cities. Avoid the rush and get your copy at Amazon then check out Oddfellow’s other books while you’re there.


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

The best way to catch a water leak before it's too late

A water leak can be one of the most expensive accidents to happen in your home. (Ask me sometime about ABT’s installation of a faulty fridge valve that caused over $20K in damage in our kitchen.)

I recommend you buy several Govee Water Leak Detectors and place them anywhere a leak might occur. The loud alarm could save you a lot of money, as it’s easy for a leak to escape detection until after it has done significant damage.

If you know me as a home automation expert, it might be surprising that these are non-automated, standalone alarms. But this is a perfect example of when isolated, inexpensive, and reliable sensors are the best choice. These are “set it and forget it” simple, and you won’t miss an alert due to network interference or a technology mismatch. Additionally, you can buy five of these for half the price of one automated sensor. (Buy from Amazon.)

That said, if you’re hellbent on unnecessary complications, you can apparently get a hub and an app from Govee that will work with these. Instead, I suggest you just convince yourself that you’re deploying a fleet of autonomous robot guardians, then get on with your life and hope that they only problem they ever detect is a low battery.


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

Cropping a photo to any size with iOS 14

Apple has changed the cropping tool so that, by default, it preserves the photo’s aspect ratio. This seems like a reasonable change, except when the reason you are cropping is to change a photo’s shape. In that situation, after you tap the crop tool, tap Reset (at the top of the screen). This will allow you to freely adjust the crop region.

the reset button in Photos

For another photos-related change in iOS 14 (and one that is very puzzling) see iOS 14 Camera Setting Not Restored on Launch


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