The Bad Hair, Incorrect Feathering, and Missing Skin Flaps of Dinosaur Art

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

llustrating long-extinct creatures is difficult, but important work. With no living specimens to observe, it’s up to “paleoartists” who draw, paint, or otherwise illustrate the creatures of prehistory as we think they might’ve been. Their work is the reason that when we talk about velociraptors, stegosaurs, or even woolly mammoths, we have some idea of what they looked like.

But since all we have to go on are fossils, deciding how a dinosaur would have looked is as much art as it is science. And there’s at least one paleoartist who thinks we might be getting things wrong…

For the love of god, not everything is about cats

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Earlier this week, the Spanish government raided the Barcelona office of the PuntCat Foundation, the company that administers the .cat domain, and arrested one of its senior executives.

PuntCat means “dot cat” in Catalan, the language spoken in the Catalonian region of Spain as well as places in France, Andorra, and Italy. The office was raided because Catalonia hopes to hold a referendum on October 1 to decide if it should secede from Spain, and in an effort to quash the referendum, the government of Spain ordered puntCat to “block all .cat domain names that may contain any kind of information about the forthcoming independence referendum,” according to a press release from the foundation.

This is an astonishing attempt at censorship by a member of the E.U. but, unfortunately, that aspect is going largely uncovered because the media is idiotically obsessed with cats…

git git git git git

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Ever found you’ve accidentally entered too many gits in your terminal and wondered if there’s a solution to it? I quite often type git then go away and come back, then type a full git status after it. This leads to a lovely (annoying) error out the box:

$ git git status
git: 'git' is not a git command. See 'git --help'.

What a git.

My initial thought was overriding the git binary in my $PATH and having it strip any leading arguments that match git, so we end up running just the git status at the end of the arguments. An easier way is to just use git-config‘s alias.* functionality to expand the first argument being git to a shell command.

git config --global alias.git '!exec git'

Which adds the following git config to your .gitconfig file

  git = !exec git

And then you’ll find you can git git to your heart’s content

$ git sha

$ git git sha

$ git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git sha

(git sha is an alias for git rev-parse HEAD.)

See what other git alias’ I have in my ~/.gitconfig, and laugh at all the typo corrections I have in there. (Yes, git provides autocorrection if you enable it, but I’m used to these typos working!)

Now git back to doing useful things!

Why I Still Use Vim

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

I often get asked about why I use Vim as my primary editor, there is no particular reason for this, except that I ended up learning it when I moved over to Linux full time many years ago. I ended up liking it because I could edit my small source files on my quad-core machine without needing to wait forever for the file to open.

Keyboard with Vim keycaps

Sure Vim isn’t a bad editor, it’s highly extensible, it’s easy to shell out to the, err well shell, its everywhere so when you ssh into some obscure server you can just type vim (or vi) and you’re good to go…

Digest for September 2017


This month I advised people of a well-known but oft-forgotten trick to avoid spam to your GMail account by using a plus-sign and some arbitrary text (or the name of the company you’re dealing with) in your email address, and shared with minimal interpretation a web app I’d developed: I also made my first attempt to publicly call out the library of the Bilkent University for ripping off the design of the website of the Bodleian Libraries.

I shared posts promoting the upcoming GDPR, discussing the popular (mis-)use of the .cat TLD and the side-effects of that, and a poem for which git was both the medium and the message.

All posts

Posts marked by an asterisk (*) are referenced by the summary above.





Reposts marked with a dagger (†) include my comments or interpretation.

GMail Tip: Use A Plus Sign To Avoid Spam

This technique’s about a decade old, but a lot of people still aren’t using it, and I can’t help but suspect that can only be because they didn’t know about it yet, so let’s revisit:

You have a GMail account, right? Or else Google for Domains? Suppose your email address is… did you know that also means that you own:


You have a practically infinite number of GMail addresses. Just put a plus sign (+) after your name but before the @-sign and then type anything you like there, and the email will still reach you. You can also insert as many full stops (.) as you like, anywhere in the first half of your email address, and they’ll still reach you, too. And that’s really, really useful.

Filling in an Equifax registration form.
Often, you end up having to give your email address to companies that you don’t necessarily trust…

When you’re asked to give your email address to a company, don’t give them your email address. Instead, give them a mutated form of your email address that will still work, but that identifies exactly who you gave it to. So for example you might give the email address to Amazon, the email address to Twitter, and the email address to… that other website you have an account on.

Why is this a clever idea? Well, there are a few reasons:

  • If the company sells your email address to spammers, or hackers steal their database, you’ll know who to blame by the email address they’re sending to. I’ve actually caught out an organisation in this way who were illegally reselling their mailing lists to third parties.
  • If you start getting unwanted mail from somebody (whether because spammers got the email or because you don’t like what the company is sending to you), you can easily block them. Even if you can’t unsubscribe or just because they make it hard to do so, you can just set up a filter to automatically discard anything that comes to that email address in future.
  • If you feel like organising your life better, you can set up filters for that, too: it doesn’t matter what address a company sends from, so long as you know what address they’re sending to, so you can easily have filters that e.g. automatically forward copies of the mortgage statement that come to to your spouse, or automatically label anything coming to with the label “Shopping”.
  • If you’re signing up just to get a freebie and you don’t trust them not to spam you afterwards, you don’t need to use a throwaway: just receive the goodies from them and them block them at the source.
The email address being entered into a form.
Certainly, you can have… THIS email address.

I know that some people get some of these benefits by maintaining a ‘throwaway’ email address. But it’s far more-convenient to use the email address you already have (you’re already logged-in to it and you use it every day)! And if you ever do want a true ‘throwaway’, you’re generally better using Mailinator: when you’re asked for your email address, just mash the keyboard and then put on the end, to get e.g. Copy the first half of the email address to the clipboard, and then when you’re done signing up to whatever spammy service it is, just go to and paste into the box to see what they emailed you.

A handful of badly-configured websites won’t accept email addresses with plus signs in them, claiming that they’re invalid (they’re not). Personally, when I come across these I generally just inform the owner of the site of the bug and then take my business elsewhere; that’s how important it is to me to be able to filter my email properly! But another option is to exploit the fact that you can put as many dots in (the first part of) your GMail address as you like. So you could put d… in and the email will still reach you, and you can later filter-out emails to that address. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide how to encode information about the service you’re signing up to into the pattern and number of dots that you use.

Go forth and avoid spam.

× ×

Review of Bytemark

This review of Bytemark originally appeared on Google Maps. See more reviews by Dan.

Excellent Internet hosting services backed by knowledgeable customer service and “real people” you can talk to, all at great prices.

Review of Payphone

This review of Payphone originally appeared on Google Maps. See more reviews by Dan.

Not just a regular payphone, this is an iconic K2 kiosk almost exactly to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s original 1924 design, and in fact the only example of such a thing in Oxford (although this particular one wasn’t originally from here): the other ‘red telephone boxes’ in Oxford are all of the latter, smaller K6 design. This particular phone box is a piece of architectural history!

Review of The Tuck Shop

This review of The Tuck Shop originally appeared on Google Maps. See more reviews by Dan.

Cheap drinks and sandwiches. Little space inside: becomes unnavigable when there’s a queue. Often run short or out of small denominations of coins (more often than you’d expect for a convenience store) and start accepting exact change only (although don’t expect to find that out until you reach the front of the queue).

Review of Oxford Print Centre

This review of Oxford Print Centre originally appeared on Google Maps. See more reviews by Dan.

A range of print services and reasonable prices, but somewhat disorganised: for my largest order, I was given a collection time and arrived only to find that they hadn’t yet started on it!

Review of Barclays ATM

This review of Barclays ATM originally appeared on Google Maps. See more reviews by Dan.

Three cash machines, although more often than not one is broken. Very often run out of £10 notes and often out of cash entirely or receipt paper. No sensible queuing space, so when there are queues they often send up on the road. A common target for card skimmer thieves: I’ve been caught out once here!