For me, each month in 2022 starts with the intention of making significant progress on a few personal projects. Then life intervenes. Family life, work life, some general requests for my assistance, and even personal health (a rather ugly cold in particular) have all curtailed my blocks of available time quite significantly. I get a lot of things done in the small bits and pieces of time between my other activities, but it is the big blocks of time to get my deeper work done on these personal projects that has been lacking of late. But, even so, I have made some small progress here and there on some of these projects and I have progressed a lot of other things in the meantime.

ThoughtAsylum

Once again I’ve been a little light on publishing content this month, but I did put out a post about the Templater plugin in Obsidian. I use Obsidian on a daily basis and each week I have regular meetings which I prep and record structure notes for. They always take the same format, and I always explicitly link them to my daily note for the day on which they are held. I also file those notes in a folder structure. This post revises an earlier approach for a way to create a new note based on a template, in a specific folder, and create a link to the note at the current cursor position in my daily note.

This had become an issue for me with one of the updates whereby I was finding the timing in the previous solution was hit and miss. Sometimes Obsidian and Templater would work seamlessly, but more frequently it would result in creation of the desired file and an identically named empty file. The key was figuring out a way to work with Obsidian’s Tfolder object, and I figured it was about time I shared my revision more widely.

Podcasts

It’s surprising to see this becoming such a regular section on my monthly update, but I had a really nice shout out on the Automator’s episode 98 podcast this month. I certainly didn’t expect to hear a “Stephen Millard appreciation section”, but the sentiment is amazing and it makes me really happy to hear that the efforts I put in to creating stuff are delivering benefits to the wider community. It is just an awesome concept for me. If you’re interested in hearing that section it’s about 36 minutes in.

Forums

As usual I’ve been trying to help people on my usual hang out forums.

Automators

In general, the Automators forum was pretty quiet this month in terms of the sorts of things I felt I could contribute to, but there were a few interesting topics. The first one I think worth mentioning was about someone looking to enable and disable their iPhone Bluetooth based on what devices were connected. When we dug in on the why, it seemed they were concerned about the security of Bluetooth and their device. But apparently not concerned enough for when they were out in the wide-world, or to use a wired headset, and I’m not sure they had reviewed the security and privacy of Bluetooth on Apple devices.

Next up is a discussion about converting Markdown to Taskpaper in Drafts. Markdown is not something that directly translates to Taskpaper, but I worked with the requestor to develop something that would meet their needs. In fact a lot of the discussion took place in private chat in the end. The final action we produced was this, but there are a few bits we left open that could be done to revise it further. As it is, it carried out a basic project and task translation, as well as grabbing a variety of URL types from the Markdown and adding them to the OmniFocus task notes to make them actionable.

The last one is just a peculiar, app-specific orientation lock issue. I think it was a glitch, but even if it was, the behaviour is rather curious.

Drafts

Conversely, on the Drafts forum there was a lot more activity. First of all, someone was looking for help stripping the wiki-link style markup from a draft. Regular expressions to the rescue. In fact, the use of regular expressions continues the second post I want to highlight.

This one highlights something that anyone using regular expressions should be acutely aware of. The poster was having trouble with Drafts not recognising a regular expression correctly. What it turned out to be is that they didn’t realise what regular expression Apple is using and they attempted to use an unsupported instruction for the engine being used. Not all regular expression engines are equal. Make sure that you have at least a passing familiarity with what the engine you are using supports.

The topic of password protecting a draft came up once again. I would not recommend using it for anything super secure (think about draft versions, backups, etc.), but if you want some basic crypto for your notes, it is possible, and my Power User ThoughtAsylum Action Groups for Drafts includes a range of actions that utilise a standard cryptographic library.

The next couple of posts continue to highlight some of the issues I find with the ways in which people put forward their questions in forums. While I am all for giving people enough information that they can learn and take the next step themselves, often I see people asking questions incrementally without stepping in at any point to do the lifting. The first of these posts was a strange evolution of requirements that could have been quickly realised by knowing them all at the start, but it did prove to be a rather surprising destination (seriously I would never have guessed this one) for what started out as a query about the automatic creation of new drafts from text files. It did give me a chance to brush off some Automator skills.

The second of the posts was another example of asking for one thing (toggling specific Markdown off), but really wanting something different (stripping Markdown), which can be solved in an entirely different way. Imagine you are stood in a quad and directed to walk along the quad one side at a time. You are told to do three such actions and after that, that you have reached your destination. Had you been told at the start it was your destination, you could simply have walked just one side of the quad to get there. I so wish people would be clear from the outset at what they ultimately want to get answered and not continuously drip feed questions to take you on what they have decided is the best path from a position of not knowing.

This next post was an interesting one as it highlights where the Drafts settings apply, and where the OS settings take over.

Not an app I have need to use, but I did help someone using the Paste (app) to send a draft to Paste on mobile. The trick was to use Shortcuts as an intermediary.

One post highlighted an important Dropbox issue to be aware of. The fix has been in beta testing and seems to have worked, so it should be due out in the next update, which should roll out in the near future.

Finally, Greg Pierce, the developer of Drafts was surveying users for feedback. It looked to be pretty slow, so I tried my hand at giving it a nudge on the forum and on Twitter.

Other

There’s been quite a bit of gadget building activity going on during March.

Arc Reactor

The first one was to “make something like Ironman’s arc reactor” for my youngest son’s robot costume for school. We used a second generation BBC Micro:bit and a Kitronik ZIP Halo which was then tethered to an action camera chest mount which went over his robot costume. It had a rainbow display (see below), played short tunes, and had a low to super bright white arc flash too. Because the day was based around Numbots activities, it also displayed played an ascending tune with a random sequence of digits and chose a final random digit which it flashed for everyone to see. We had a great time putting it together and testing it out, though the mounting of it on the chest plate late the night before did prove a little stressful.

You can take a look at the code by doing the following:

  1. Visit https://makecode.microbit.org/

  2. Select Import.

  3. Select Import URL.

  4. Paste in https://github.com/sylumer/microbit-arc-reactor-01.

  5. Select Go Ahead! to trigger the import and open the code.

Pimoroni Badger 2040

Next up is Pimoroni (based just south of me in Sheffield, UK) released their new Badger 2040, an e-ink badge powered by an RP2040 (a Raspberry Pi Foundation microcontroller). I have been looking for something like this for years so that I could have a name badge I could tailor by event and as any contact details change. I had a nice enamel badge printed up for the last live presentation I gave at a SAP user group meeting. Since then I’ve changed job titles twice, so you can see the value.

It is a little bulkier than a normal badge, but for someone in my line of work (IT), it also has a point of being an interesting opener for someone wanting to talk to me.

It’s on my list of things to write up, so hopefully I’ll have something up on ThoughtAsylum about it before too long.

3D Printer

As part of my foray into working with the Badger 2040, I needed a backing plate for it as I was going to be using it with a LiPo battery. I decided to take the plunge and get a basic 3D printer. While I did consider a more expensive model, I really don’t need much for just tinkering projects than anything serious, and a model that my kids and I could start with was the aim. As a result I purchased an Easythreed X1 printer from Amazon. With a little discount available at the time it was less than £100, and after buying a spool of filament and a set of skates to let the filament unspool from, it has actually been a lot of fun printing out bits and pieces.

The calibration of the right settings was certainly as painful as expected, but since then I’ve 3D printed the backing plate for the Badger 2040, some small figure models for my kids and I, and a desk leg clamp for my headphones. I even created a very simple under table hook for my desk. It is clamped between the frame and the top and allows me to hold a headphone cable out of the way of my legs.

Cough Button

I’ve also bought a few things that I am hoping to make a cough button with for my XLR mic set up. I haven’t had time to make it yet, but I need to dig out my soldering iron and get to work on that this coming month. You will probably see if it worked by whether I eventually publish a post about it.

Upcoming

I have a bit of business and personal travel coming up in April, so I am hoping to get the opportunity to get a bit of additional writing done, but I suspect some of my new projects will take a hit without access to my home office. Such is the nature of those particular projects

But, there are a lot of exciting things happening in April.

First of all, it is the 10th anniversary of Drafts. I’ve been asked by a few people to share some thoughts, so if you keep your eyes open this month, you’ll perhaps see some commentary from me appearing in a few places online.

Next up is that episode 100 of the Automators podcast is due to be released in April. I’m looking forward to seeing what Rosemary and David have planned. I’ve also been contacted directly by David about something else happening in April, so watch this space.

Finally, Macstories are launching a new event called “Automation April”, so I’m looking forward to seeing what that brings to the space.

Thanks once again to everyone who has bought me a coffee. It is very much appreciated.