What went wrong at King’s Cross over Christmas?

There were highly publicised problems and delays at King’s Cross Station over the Christmas period, for the nebulous reasons of “engineering works”. But to their credit, about a fortnight ago, Network Rail published a full report about the disruption, explaining how the carefully planned works overran so badly.

The report goes into a lot of detail, and it’s well worth reading. But if you just want a high-level overview of the major problems, then this summary is the best that I’ve read so far.

Register to vote – GOV.UK

Given today’s news that people are falling through the cracks in the Electoral Register, I thought try to spread the link for registering to vote. I did it this morning, and it took about five minutes. Really easy.

On a side note, I’m continually impressed with the design of the GOV.UK site. It has a very crisp and clean look, and the New Transport typeface gives it a distinctive feel. It’s probably one of the best-designed sites I use on a (semi-)regular basis.

Empire’s BBFC Ratings Podcast Special

In an Empire Podcast first, readers posed their Twitter questions, queries and grievances about movie ratings direct to the man who oversees them on a daily basis, BBFC [British Board of Film Classification] executive director David Austin. Why was Gremlins rated 15? What ever happened to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?‘s 18 rating? What’s a 12A for, anyway? And what happened with A Good Day To Die Hard?

I thought this was a fascinating podcast about how the BBFC works: how they decide on a film’s rating, the way they choose the criteria for each rating, and changing attitudes towards adult content in films. It’s a very candid interview: Austin answers all of the questions head-on, in a very honest and reasonable way.

If you have any interest in film or cinema, then I think it’s definitely worth a listen.

RSS linkposts in Pelican

You may have noticed that linkposts have started appearing on the blog. This is, of course, not an original idea.

I use Pelican to generate the site, so I needed to find a linked list implementation that worked in Pelican. I started with Gabe Weatherhead’s post which explained how to add a link attribute to my Markdown source files, and I modified my templates and CSS for the linkposts. But Gabe’s post ended on a loose thread, which I felt compelled to pull on:

I’m still trying to understand how to create RSS feed link-style articles.

In most RSS feeds with linked lists, the main URL points to the original source, not the commentary on the host site. That’s what I wanted to implement in Pelican. (I don’t know if Gabe ever found the answer, but if he did, I can’t find where he wrote about it. I was also unable to find anybody else who’d done this before.)

Continue reading →

A script for exporting from iMessage

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with iMessage. It’s the main way I talk to my long-distance girlfriend (along with Skype and FaceTime), but it’s also pretty buggy. Messages arrive multiple times, out-of-order, or not at all. But it’s convenient, so I keep using it.

The iOS and OS X Messages app both use SQL databases to store their data (sms.db and chat.db, respectively). I sometimes worry about losing the messages in an iOS update, or database corruption, so I wanted to get my messages out of SQL and into a plaintext format. I’ve started writing a script that takes the SQL files, and exports each thread as a JSON file.

The script, and all my notes, are in a GitHub repo. This includes the database schema used by Messages, and some references/useful pointers on edge cases I’ve run into. Still a work-in-progress, but hopefully useful to somebody.

What would happen if we really went to war against Christmas?

I cannot think of too many worse environments to infiltrate and then exfiltrate from than the North Pole,” says Andrew Exum, a former special adviser for Middle East policy at the Department of Defense who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A few days late for Christmas, but this was a fun read.

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:

I 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 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.

Continue reading →

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.

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