How could Golems best be used to defend a modern day city of Prague?

The new Worldbuilding Stack Exchange has had some really interesting questions, but this is my favourite. I might have come up with one or two of these ideas, but not the whole package. It’s a really nice answer, but I won’t spoil it — just go and read it.

Kitchen sink security

I was going through some old paperwork recently, and I found some old bank cards that had expired. It’s good practice to destroy expired cards, so that the numbers on them can’t be used for identity theft.

The normal way to destroy a card is to shred it. If you want to go one step better, you can try erasing the numbers from the card entirely. I found quite a fun way to do this, using nothing but things I found in my kitchen. Here’s what I did:

Boiled a kettle, filled a mug with boiling water, then I dropped my card in it. I saw the raised plastic numbers dissolve almost instantly, and soon after, the plastic film on which the numbers and signature strip are actually printed came away as well. After five minutes, the EMV chip fell out as well. I poked and prodded at it with some cutlery — I don’t think this helps with the security, but it was fun to see how weirdly I could bend the card. (Several cards had four or five folds.)

Once I was done, I fished it out and ran it under the cold tap to harden the plastic. Then I chopped it into small pieces, and scattered them across several bins.

This doesn’t make it impossible for somebody to read the numbers from my card, but it makes it quite a bit harder. (I can still make out very faint outlines, but I know what numbers used to be there — I don’t know if somebody else could read them.) Overall, I’m calling that a win.


I have to remember a fair number of acronyms at work. I’ve learnt all the ones that I use on a daily basis, but there are plenty of others that I use on an infrequent basis and still need to look up every time.

I spend most of my day in the command-line, and yesterday morning I thought it might be useful to have a CLI tool for managing a list of acronyms. After dinner, I decided to spend an hour or so writing one.

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Skeletors All the Way Down

Back in June, I had fun making an image chart to track all of the Skeletor references on the Incomparable podcast. Now, “that guy who made the relationships graphs” (Nathan Gouwens, who also made a great graph to track which panellists were on shows together) has one-upped me.

He’s made an interactive chart which shows not only which episodes featured Skeletor mentions, but also links to the exact clip in which it was discussed. And as it drops back through the different clip shows, it highlights the connection between them. It’s a really nice piece of work.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to indulge in some Skeletor nostalgia.

Lukas Mathis on iOS CarPlay and Android Auto

Lukas Mathis watched the video comparison of CarPlay and Android Auto, and didn’t like what he saw:

All I could think while watching this movie was «how can this possibly be legal?» Dialling numbers while driving? Receiving notifications in your car? Liking songs while on the wheel? And all of this on a super-laggy touchscreen?

I’ve been thinking similar things for a while.

I passed my driving test in July 2013, just after CarPlay (then “iOS in the Car”) was announced, although I’d been learning for about three years prior. Today, I find driving to be mostly muscle memory, but I still remember how difficult it was when I was just starting. I can’t imagine driving while using one of these units, and still feeling safe or in control.

It’s easy to forget that driving a car is a really complicated skill, and it demands a high level of concentration. A momentary distraction can be fatal. Legal or not, I can’t understand why somebody would one of these units in their car, and still feel safe to drive.

Custom CSS in ResophNotes

My note-taking app of choice is nvALT, but since I have to use Windows at work, I’ve also been using ResophNotes, which seems to be the closest alternative you can get. I have a lot of notes: any error code, bugfix or useful titbit gets saved there, because trying to remember what a cryptic error message that you saw two weeks ago actually meant gets boring really fast.

Most of the time I read the plain Markdown, but for complicated notes I’ll use the Markdown preview. But the preview window isn’t the prettiest thing ever:

I was used to customising the preview in nvALT, so I wanted to do the same for ResophNotes. This turned out to be easy to do, but it wasn’t entirely obvious how to do it.

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Unpacking sets and ranges from a single string

I was reading the cURL man page on Thursday. Although I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did come across some rather neat syntax for specifying multiple URLs in a single string. Here’s an example:

You can specify multiple URLs or parts of URLs by writing part sets within braces as in:


or you can get sequences of alphanumeric series by using [] as in:[1-100].txt[001-100].txt (with leading zeros)[a-z].txt

The man page has more examples.

I’ve been thinking about something like this for a while. It’s not hard to create these lists using loops in Python, but it’s a bit tedious. It takes time to set up the correct loops, and for anything complicated you end up with an unhealthy level of nesting. I’d rather solve this problem once, and then not have to worry again.

I had a slightly different syntax in mind (simpler, and with more double brackets), but since I had a finished spec in the form of the examples, I decided to use this instead. I’ve written a Python script which takes a single string, and returns all the strings it specifies as an iterator.

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Missing argument at index 2” in fish

My default shell is fish. I find it very pleasant and easy to use, and it was very friendly when I was first learning the shell. The downside is that it seems to have a relatively small user base, and so you can’t always just do a Google search when you hit an error message.

Here’s a rather odd one I came across this evening: running cd would throw up a “test: Missing argument” message, but any other command was fine:

$ cd ~/bin
test: Missing argument at index 2

$ pwd

Googling this error message turns up just four results, and none of them were particularly useful in solving my problem. This is where I was hitting a problem, and how I fixed it.

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Notes on Tumblr

The most popular thing I’ve ever written is my site for finding untagged Tumblr posts. I have a few small changes, a new way to filter posts, and some other thoughts on using Tumblr.

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Google wants developers to make their address public

As reported by Joe Fedewa at Phandroid, Google is making it compulsory for developers of paid apps to provide a physical address in the Play Store. If not, their app could be pulled from the store.

This is a terrible idea.

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