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Ask HN: What non-work task have you automated?
581 points by Kevin_S 6 days ago | hide | past | web | 688 comments | favorite

I was in the US and want to immigrate to Canada because of US broken H1B immigration system ( for me it will take 9 years to get a greencard). Here is what I did -

The immigration website of Saskatchewan province opens up randomly to apply for immigration. I missed it many times because there is no indication other than the "Apply" button being enabled and a small text in their homepage which says "Applications are now 'open' ". They will close the application intake when they have reached X number of applicants. So timing is very important.

So I hacked up a script which diffs their home page every 10 minutes for "open" regex. When there is an "open" keyword in the diff, the python script calls twilio API to make a phone call to me along with an SMS.

So this script was running in AWS for many weeks and one day I got the call. Logged in to Saskatchewan's immigration homepage and applied. Now I am in Canada as a permanent resident. Thanks to Twilio. edit: add H1B to make clear which type of immigration is broken IMO.

(This comment is from my previous HN account, for which I lost my pwd.)

If you want to build stuff like this in future, check Page.REST a simple API I built. You can pass a query string `contains=TEXT` to check the existence of a word or a phrase.

Here's a Postman collection of all possible options with the API https://app.getpostman.com/run-collection/620bbe44b6ecc6c2e3...

You can maybe add a glitch repo to make it easier to get started.

Thanks! I looked at Glitch but didn't quite get how I can make a shareable sample.

https://visualping.io/ can do this, although it sends email alerts rather than SMS messages.

I used it to notify me of new Hololens events, listed on this page https://www.microsoftevents.com/profile/web/index.cfm?PKwebI...

Other possible services include https://uptimerobot.com/ and https://www.pingdom.com/

Just set it to check for the presence of a word on the page, etc.

How do you deal with the legality of scraping?

I was hired to scrape some economic related pages and build an excel file and email it, I got that done but not sure if I should try to host this and turn it into a service or just set it up for the client and let them deal with it. It's just personal use on their part.

I would not equate scraping with periodic searching for a keyword.

The problematic part is when you scrape data off of websites, and the owners don't want you to do it; as in, they would not even be happy if you manually copied that stuff into an excel file for fun or profit.

I can see that, although automating to decrease views of a page(from checking by refresh)... I suppose the end result is sign up in this case.

So for me I'll set it up for them and them run it.

> How do you deal with the legality of scraping?

How did Google deal with it, when they started their search engine business?

My counter to this is, without Google's "algorithm" the search results would not be great/find what you want. And in this case websites want to volunteer/agree to index their site for visibility but then you still have to visit the site because conveniently The site summary ends before the content that you want. I don't know how I would find websites unless referred on some website.

I kinda felt the same way about how Netflix started out but I think they probably had a deal to pay a portion of revenue from dvd's that they rented out.


Because this was very important to me and my life forward, I thought it was better to roll my own custom notifier. Moreover, the phone call thing was the most important part which will get attention any time of the day than an email.

So bounce your (unique) e-mail to an SMS-forwarder :)

I like the telegram API :)

Cool! Thanks for that Already using it to track whenever a couple stores here in Japan put the Nintendo Switch back in inventory or lottery sale

This is awesome, thank you.

No Hololens events in London, is that by design?

Wait a while...it took about six months for one to happen here in Sydney. Well worth the wait - half an hour of exclusive use of a Hololens. All the while being recorded for market research purposes, but that seemed like a fair trade.

Did the same thing to get a wedding registration appointment with the Berlin city administration, but used Ghostery instead of AWS+Twilio. The responsible administration department currently doesn’t give out appointments and advises not to plan weddings because they are so understaffed, but I didn’t feel like waiting. Got a notification email from Gostery in the middle of the night, registered the only available slot et voilà!

Isn’t Ghostery an ad-blocker?

I can’t see anything else with that name. All the references in this thread are great tips, so I’d like to track this one down too.

Thanks for commenting - it was Ghost Inspector

Can you please elaborate on the state of your bureaucracy. It'll make me feel better about American politics.

I think it is a passing thing. Germany recently legalized Gay marriage and presumably that lead to a huge backlog of gay people finally wanting to marry.

So we both had life changing events. Its the real winning moment of a programmer when he is able to use his/her skills for a "non-work" task automation. Its more satisfying.

I did a very similar thing to check if my H1B was approved. My use case was simpler - I regexp matched a keyword on the webpage and converted the script to an alexa skill deployed locally. Unfortunately, i wasn't home for the week when the approval happened :P. But it was fun asking alexa to check the status!

I’ve tweaked Gmail filter settings so some Meetup invites appeared as a phone alert, ie nearly everything else filtered into no alert.

London Meetup fill up within minutes that many data science ones allot tickets “randomly” via lottery.

Surely this is a market opportunity?

The problems are too fragmented for a generic alert service to solve.

Did something similar to check availability of a special deal by my ISP.

No need to write code, you only need a shell account on a box somewhere. Put a line like this in your crontab:

    20 9,12,15,18,21 * * * curl -s http://example.com/special-deal-page | grep 'something that needs to appear on the page' | mailx -E -s "it's happening!1!" $MAILTO
This will check every three hours during daytime (which is what I wanted). "mailx -E" will only send an email if the input is not empty. Don't forget to define MAILTO and to test the contraption.

This is pretty much exactly how my https://github.com/lamby/gumtree-sniper works

Pretty concise. I needed a loud phonecall, so used twilio free developer account for that.

I used this same technique to apply for an early interview for the U.S. CBP's Global Entry program. Someone already open-sourced the tool, then I set up a cron job to run it: https://github.com/davidofwatkins/ge-cancellation-checker

Did you make it to SK? There's a few of us here, but not that many...

Yes, made it to SK, but moved to Montreal for better job prospects. Probably will have to move to Toronto because my spouse's can't find a good job due to the strict French language requirements for non IT jobs in Quebec.

I've heard that you need to stay in that province (min 2 yrs) if you go through pnp program. then how come you moved to Quebec?

It’s express entry after provincial nomination. Once PR is given and landed, you are free to move and work anywhere in Canada.

Congrats. It is for sure a life changing hack.

Not sure why you choose to do diff? You could have just searched the dom for the existence of 'Apply' button? Am i missing something?

Frankly, I didn't think much. Just wrote this script in an impulse of a moment when I missed a slot. During that time, I didn't think about how it was done, but the end result. Sure diff would have triggered false positives, luckily didn't get any.

Perhaps you didn't know how the button was supposed to look like? Seems like it's better to get false positives than to miss it.

To be clear, H1B isn’t an immigrant visa. It’s a temporary skilled worker visa. There are other visas designed for skilled immigrants. Someone on an H1B isn’t an immigrant so of course the system would be “broken” when expecting H1B to result in a green card. It’s no different than expecting a tourist visa to be the first step to getting a residency visa. H1B was never implemented as a pathway to permanent residency.

Still that aside, great ‘hack’ and congrats on getting your Canadian residency!

Thats wrong information. H1B is a “dual intent” visa.

Its broken because it was really intended for exceptionally skilled workers. But currently its a lottery. USCIS just takes the word of the company applying for it and grants the visa. This loophole is being exploited by numerous body shops. That is reason why there are low quality H1B workers. There are various other problems like employee mobility, spouses of H1B is not free to work in the land of the free. Country of birth based quotas for permanent residency, rather than skills or points based quotas.

This is interesting - as there do no longer exist equal opportunities between the different castes with this.

Saddle the lawyers, we ride at dawn!

Using one's intelligence and skills to better your life should be celebrated, not lamented as evidence of burdening some other "caste."

I get what you mean, but the same might be said for someone being able to check manually every 10 minutes. Then there is no equal opportunity between the working and workless classes.

It made me so happy to read your post! That is such an amazing idea!

Could you please upload your code on GitHub? May I ask your github profile?

You could write this with simpledomhtlm + php + cron or a raspberry pi (cron) and then send yourself a webhook notification via slack or configure mailgun (mailing client) or firebase android notification (haven't done this).

Inspect the page,find the structure, isolate or if it is easier to just dump the entire plaintext and use strpos to find a specific word.

Is that for Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program?

Yes. SINP in short.

Why don't you convert this into a paid service? Sounds amazing!

I did, hosted at sinpnotifier.com, Saskatchewan province is not that attractive for skilled immigrants. Had one sale though, then I shut it down.

> Why don't you convert this into a paid service


> I did, ...Had one sale though

Yeah, was about to say, it's too small of a niche. Plus the risk that sooner or later, Saskatchewan would update their site to provide the same feature.

Yes, too small of an audience to sell it to. Also I didn't care about the timezones in the script. It will make the call no matter in which timezone you are in (you will get the call in the middle of the night), because Saskatchewan's site do not care, it will close when the quota gets filled and it gets filled fast, within hours !

Well, you'd want to make it a /bit/ more generic, surely? Like, "load this url and send a text to this number if the (page text | diff) matches this regexp"?

Even allow people to create presets that would then be added as a generic thing. You could use it for camping all sorts of intermittent online things (web site specials, online ticket pre-orders, etc.)

There are many sites which already does this. During that situation when I missed a slot, I didn't want to take any chances again by using sites like visualping. I trusted my script and twilio API to work.

First I thought to ring a loud alarm connected with a Pi, but then it will be limited to my apartment. So I went with twilio to give me a phone call. Because I should act immediately and time was of the essence. Emails or SMS might go unnoticed.

Maybe you didn't market it to right crowd? I know a lot of South Asian people who go to Saskatchewan just to get their PR.

There are a lot of Software Engineering/Development jobs in Toronto or bigger cities so people in those fields wont leave these bigger cities.

The problem with monetizing this service is because there are many immigration watsapp groups with many members in it. So when one member buys this service, he can simply broadcast this notification to his watsapp groups. I even made the service free, but no takers. Anyways it worked for me, changed my life !

Ah fair enough. Glad it all worked out for you. I did choose Canada ( well, my dad) for undergrad because of easier immigration policy.

You took the right decision. (well, your dad).

Hey, I would be willing to pay for such service. How should I contact you? My contact details are in my profile. Plshlpme

I have a house plant that is watered automatically, but not based on any pre-determined schedule. I have the plant's livestream and its moisture level available publicly on pleasetakecareofmyplant.com and the decision to water is crowd sourced on reddit.com/r/takecareofmyplant by way of a daily vote.

I'm truly amazed that this has been going for over a year now and the internet hasn't murdered it

Some have tried, but it would take some coordinated effort over several weeks at this point to over or underwater the plant. I've found that the folks who consistently vote take it relatively seriously to the point they have discussions about optimal schedules and for the most part stick to them.

I'm glad that these people exist but on the other hand It's hard to imagine what they do in everyday life that this topic is so interesting to them, that they want to feel this responsibility for the plant.

Communities can form around the weirdest of things, and when they do, social ties keep the original reason going.

That's a beautifully succinct explanation of the Internet.

They've also done a lot to enrich the whole community. The daily plant gifs and a monthly voting graphic overview post have been put together by folks in the community.

How did you end up getting people interested/wanting to participate? I feel like that's the biggest hurdle.

sounds like bitcoin lol

What moisture sensor are you using? That's always been a sticking point for me, where soil moisture sensors just don't work, unlike air moisture sensors.

It's very simple -- something like https://www.amazon.com/Moisture-Humidity-Compatible-Atomic-M...

Due to the volume of the pot, it would be difficult to get a true moisture reading, so I place the sensor directly under the spout in order to have noticeable changes.

we do this for a ag product


which can use a number of different sensor makes, but http://www.decagon.com/en/soils/volumetric-water-content-sen... seem pretty good

Associated HN discussion currently on the front page:

Please take care of my plant | https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15453974 (100+ comments)

And the link: http://www.pleasetakecareofmyplant.com/

This couldn't backfire. I like it.

The worst case scenario was me trying to keep the plant alive, so it was really all upside.

This is fantastic. I had a similar idea but it was for a friend of mine. She constantly made the wrong choices in life and I'm positive things would turn out better if she crowdsourced all of her decision makings.

Very cool! Can you share the hardware setup you have?

Yeah, there are some affiliate links on the main page of the website, then a link in the header to 'how it works' shows a bit more. All of the code is mostly on github. (I was still learning how to use git for this project, so its not perfect)

If you have any more questions feel free to post them in the sub and I can explain more!

Very clever, I like the project. I'm a fan of the pin too.. can there be a fridge magnet version?

haha I can snip off the pin and super glue a magnet to the back of one if you want. They haven't been selling well enough to recoup the initial production cost so I'm hesitant to expand the product line.

Do you have limits to prevent over or under watering?

Yeah, so it's not water on demand. That was my original idea but obviously that posed some risks to the dryness of my floor and the relationship with my landlord.

How it functions is a daily yes/no vote that triggers a watering event for that day.

Edit: Oh, but to I think the real question -- No. It's not my plant anymore as far as I'm concerned. The community can care for it as they see fit. I won't interfere, except to add features, or put up seasonal decorations :)

Sounds like that would defeat the entire purpose, as well as prevent anyone from caring whether they participated.

1. My former spouse wouldn't answer the home phone when I talked with the kids during the divorce. I wrote an app that texted her and logged the attempt for reporting to the guardian ad litem.

2. She also wouldn't answer the door when during kids pick-up. The same app texted her when I was outside.

3. To disprove her allegations I wasn't involved in the kids school and activities I used Android's Locale app to trigger geofenced log entries.

4. Python and Matplotlib came in quite handy automating timeline generation from PDF docs. Never got that one quite perfect though.

I'm not sure I could have prevailed in getting more time with my kids without the time savings automation gave me. I've seen other fathers stopped cold in Court who were less prepared.

This is awesome. You should turn this into a sevice or App -- call it DivorceBot or CustodyBot or FatherTime ?

Considering that close to a MILLION Americans get divorced every year, at a 50% rate i.e. half of marriages are ending up in divorce in the US.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm

I saw on a reddit discussion that this has already become a service some courts use. I can't remember the name and it might not have been even mentioned ("PM me") but it exists already.

Nicely done! Amazing how slanted family court is that one has to go to such measure to subvert such deceit.

May you and your children be blessed.

Did you have to prove your system was logging real data?

You might be able to use https://opentimestamps.org/ to provide evidence over time (i.e. proving it wasn't fabricated all at once).

Still, that doesn't prove that the individual points weren't fabricated at the time.

Another question is if this will be admissible in the court.

There isn't a blanket reason why it wouldn't be. In a particular case it's up to the judge, and the judge's decision probably depends on the quality of the experts that can be found to explain it.

I am not a lawyer but it would seem if you attest to the fact that it is reliable data it would be admissible. Lying under oath and fabricating evidence is still against the law.

> To disprove her allegations I wasn't involved in the kids school and activities...

There don't seem to be any criminal charges here.

That doesn't mean you don't get sworn.


"I was on Mars on 13/10/2017"

Still a lie, even in the blockchain

The SMS part would mean you could in theory subpoena the telco for proof of that part if it came down to it.

They accept paper logs as well. Infact many judges just order paper logs

It was enough for the GAL to make a positive recommendation, and that seemed to be what the Court was after (the recommendation).

What is your email address,rrggrr? Or rather would you email me if you do not want to make it public? See my update email address in my profile.

My girlfriend needed to be texted everyday otherwise she would turn sour. So I made an sms generator that randomly composed sentences combining words from three tables and sent to her at random times. It took her many months to notice. When she found out, she was angry for 10 seconds, but that anger faded to curiosity about how the random sentence composer thing worked. After I showed it to her, she got mad at me again for not updating the tables more frequently :P

I did something similar, my gf wanted me text her that I got home safely after I left her place. So I automated it that when I disconnected to her WiFi and within a certain time reconnected to mine it would text her. She noticed it when she drove me back home once and still got the text.

My wife and I simplified the "where are you" problem by turning on always-on location sharing in Google maps. Some people find it creepy, but as a couple of engineers we're pretty stoked on the efficiency improvement.

I'd still be creeped out. What if I want to go secretly shop for a gift?

I did the same thing, only at the time I had a wireless charger, so it was setup on my phone to send the text when it was after 8PM and I put my phone on the charger.

One night she stayed over, set the phone down, got the text, and thought it was hilarious and said she did think it was weird that I said the exact same thing every night.

The next day I updated it to pick from one of 10 different text messages!

But what if the murderer took your phone and drove past your home?

Was a fair game still. You were safe at home.

Did the same; my SO wanted me to send her a periodic reminder as a text message on a given hour; I put together a Tasker task that composed a bunch of randomly selected parts into a sentence.

It took about a month or two for her to notice, though I believe that what ultimately did me in was that time when I was talking with her on the phone when the SMS task executed...

I have thought about doing this so many times, and yet dare to make the move. It will be fun at first but not so much after she finds out.

Here's a idea for a compromise: make the SMS bot send you a message with a suggested message. This keeps you in the loop about what messages are being sent but relieves you from having to remember to send up a message or think of one.

Yeah... one day her cat dies, and she gets the automated text you forgot to stop: "Hey babe... hope you're having a great day! xoxo"

That's awesome, what was the sms api/platform that you used and how much?

Nothing fancy, I used "Tasker" on my own android phone. Ugliest thing ever, but I managed to hack it during a bus trip, and it worked.

This makes me wonder, how could one implement something like this over a service like Whatsapp?

I don't use WhatsApp, but if it allows to receive Intents (Android functions to execute something on an app, like sending a message to someone), then you can use Tasker to send the intent you want with the right parameters.

Have not heard of that thanks.

I just assume you have to rent a number/sms service or put a usb cable into your phone to use your existing phone.

Would be cool to interface with it without usb.

Tasker is just an app, there's no need for any cable. Tasker lets you automate stuff on your phone, say send a SMS every day, turn the WIFI on when you are close to your house, etc.

I see. I was looking at it with perpestive of being integrated with a "web coded thing" I don't know how to explain what I'm saying like you wrote something in JavaScript and want to send a message by your phone from JS.

Anyway that is pretty cool what it does.

How did she find out eventually?

Because I implemented the thing during a bus ride, the sending time was not very random, and looking at a stream of messages she suspected I was scheduling them. When I showed her that even the content of the message was automatically generated, that's when she got angry.

Not OP, but in my case, I believe she finally noticed when a text message arrived on-schedule while I was having a coversation on the phone with her...

I have a system built on top of Calibre's "recipe" scripts which scans a set of RSS feeds every day at 3am for new articles, scrapes and cleans the full content where necessary, bundles them into .mobi ebooks, and sends them to my Kindle's email address. Amazon's network wirelessly delivers them overnight, and I wake up in the morning with a fresh batch of reading material. It's like a personalized newspaper subscription.

Similarly, I have a self-hosted instance of Tiny Tiny RSS set up with an array of custom scraping plugins to pull all the web comics I follow into one feed, which I consume with the Android client. I'd push this through my Kindle delivery system, but then I'd be stuck reading black-and-white versions of color comics.

Along the same lines, there are a few YouTube channels I subscribe to whose content can be enjoyed nearly as well in audio-only form. As a university student, I do a lot of walking most days to get from place to place, and I fill that time listening to audio content. The same server which runs my news- and comic-gathering systems also watches those YouTube channels, pulls down new videos, converts them to audio, and publishes the results as podcast feeds which I can subscribe to through Pocket Casts on my phone.

This is cool.

I wonder how effective it is though these days, I'd say 70% of my RSS feeds are either truncated forms of a full article (with a 'click here to continue reading!' link), or just summaries.

That's what the scraper scripts are for. For each site that does this, I have a bit of code which visits the article URL and pulls out the full content.

This is re-implemented by so many. (HN user megous https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13226170 Dec 2016.) It would be nice to find a way to share this work, but the variety of tools used often make the customizations too custom (or maybe this is just the most common reason why creators feel there is no reason to share?).

Is anyone aware of any repositories where the customization required to obtain the important content is maintained by a community?

Most site also display data in a much easier way if you identify as googlebot

That’s a great way to kill your page rank.

This is why I gave up on RSS. I wanted to read content quickly without having to navigate to a website.

I think your project is very very cool, and I was thinking maybe we can work together on this. We created a very similar thing, but instead of scraping RSS, we scrapped some well structured pages like newspapers and blogs.

If you are interested in working together please reach me out!

You can check what we did here: https://eink.news

I used to use Youcast (https://github.com/I3arnon/YouCast), which allows Youtube channel or playlist to be consumed as Podcast. I used it with my iPhone podcast app to watch and listen to my favorite Youtube channels when I was off the internet.

Which youtube channels are you referring to? The weather is getting nicer and my walks are getting longer, would appreciate having something great to listen to (versus an audio version of a textbook).

Not OP, but some channels I would recommend that work as audio-only: (mostly science or thought-provoking)




Innuendo Studios


SciShow (and the sub-channels: SciShow Space and SciShow Psych)

PBS Idea Channel (no new videos, but old content is good)


Wendover Productions

This method of downloading a website for later viewing is how Richard Stallman uses the web.


Been using my tt-rss instance and Fiery Feeds on my iphone for a while now. Fiery Feeds does some magic to get the full articles in case they only display preview snippets.

I'm currently in the process of doing the exact same thing with my ttrss instance. I am using lxml. I wanted to create "pages" of comics sort of like the funnies, instead of just one big feed, since ttrss can do that already. Would you mind if I looked over your scripts? I'd love to see what your solution was.

I'm also developing something similar to your news scraper but with different end goals. I'd love to talk with you about your approaches in that domain as well.

Wouldn't happen to have this on Github would you?

Very interesting and smart system. Could you possibly share this code on GitHub?

Please share!

So simple!!! Time to build this for my train ride

github please?

I used Python to automate generating a chronological email/sms/phone contact archive when a home renovation project went wrong. My builder made a bunch of mistakes, tried to fob me off with excuses, and then pretended everything was ok. This integrated log was invaluable in showing discrepancies between what he said at the time and what he subsequently claimed.

My Python script reads my Google Contacts csv extract to identify relevant people, the lxml library parses my mobile phone call and sms logs, the mailbox module reads my email inbox and Sent Items to extract relevant messages, PIL resizes attached images. Then I use docx to reassemble the results chronologically into a Word document suitable for submitting in court proceedings.

The resulting Word document is an intimidating 130 pages long. I have shown my builder enough excerpts for him to accept liability for most defects. I won a County Court judgment against him last week. Now for the financial settlement!

I thought about putting my script up on github, though haven't had time to scrub some personal information from the source code...

I would pay for this. The key is to start doing it at the very beginning, not just when things go south.

I know of a homeowner that informed his contractor(s) that he blogs daily about the progress of his renovation. The fear alone was sufficient to ensure that his project went smoothly. Plus if the contractors do a good job then they get free PR.

I use Google Voice and have often wanted pretty much the same thing.

If you could integrate that into an application (Google Contacts integrated message history with Email/SMS/Phone/GV message history) that I could run on my own device, I would pay money for that. I would only be interested if I could run it on my own though, eg specifically not as a third party service; privacy issues.

SMS Backup+ for Android can put all texts into your GMail archive (and calls into Google Calendar), knocking out one dependency there.


It's actually one of the first apps I always install after I discovered the hard way that Android used to delete corrupted SQLite databases and I lost the SMS DB on my phone.


Passive learning. Whenever I come across something cool or interesting, I put it into a chrome extension I made called "Harvest". It sends me email reminders of what I've added on a spaced repetition schedule (1, 7, 17, 35 days into the future) for optimal retention


Man, this is awesome. Now that Firefox has become so vastly better than Chrome (who would have expected that a year ago?) you should port it to Firefox too.

I just gave it a spin again, after using Chrome for years.

The new Firefox is actually faster than Chrome, on my PCs. Plus of course the mobile version actually supports adblockers. I'm switching back to Firefox, personally.

interesting. ive heard this a lot. will port it

interested in this as well. is there any way I can be notified if you do so?

yes, i will be sure to ping you guys here

me too, thanks

me 3

Would you please alert me as well?

We should automate this somehow…

lol good idea. can you guys add your emails to: https://aetolabs.com/harvest/

i won't spam you, promise. will notify everyone there about updates like the firefox port

How much better? Any reference to a comparison?

Thanks for sharing. I tried it out and it looks great. I had a couple issues. Firstly it has me sign into my Google account on a browser window with no address bar. The only way I could actually verify that it wasn't a fishing site was to use the dev tools. After that it signed me out after a few hours. Hope this helps.

How do you pop the dev tools up on that window?

I tried but can't (same thoughts as you, without verifying it myself, not gonna sign in...)

Hitting F12 or Ctrl+Shift+C on the popup page do nothing.

EDIT: chrome on linux Version 59.0.3071.86 (Official Build) (64-bit)

understand completely about the google signin. will look into how to display the URL as well to give people peace of mind. one day soon will add a dedicated authentication service.. this was just the easiest way to get up and running.

getting signed out happens for a variety of reasons, probably unrelated to the extension itself. ill keep an eye out though to see if there is a systematic reason

thks for the feedback mate!

This is AMAZING. I am going to use this for its intended purpose because I love passive learning. I also intend on using it as a tool to keep me in check with nags with things that don't end up on my immediate schedule: "Have you written the unit tests for that open source project yet?". Having that show up a few times in random days or months would be great.

Sucks extensions don't work on phones (Chrome) I was doing a similar thing just grabbing topics when you go down a rabbit hole to remember random stuff you learn.

mobile app in the plan

Just downloaded your extension, it looks great! What does the stack look like for this product? I'd love to hear how you went about building this extension.

google extensions are basically all javascript :p and the styling is from https://semantic-ui.com/ backend is node planning to make a simple mobile app so i can save stuff from my phone too. i can do a more detailed writeup later on!

https://www.memomize.com/ is a similar extension.

thks for the link. i think main difference is that harvest uses spaced repetition for passive learning, i dont want to see every thing every time i open a new tab. i like looking at my momentum backgrounds :)

Cool idea. I will probably highlight way too many unimportant-but-seemed-neat-at-the-time facts from Wikipedia, but I'm going to try it out.

hah i do this all the time. added a "delete" button to get rid of the useless-in-hindsight stuff

This is really interesting. What are some of the things you have used this for? One of the examples is a quotation, which makes lots of sense. What else could it be useful for? Formulas, maybe?

I'm trying to expand my Chinese vocab, so I usually do something like "<characters> translation"

eg. 拓展 expand

For that I use Anki with the Chinese Support plugin, which is honestly pretty great. It does not only have characters and translation, but also pronunciation both as Pinyin (I think other romanizations can be configured) and audio (which plays on review, great for training your ear and checking your pronunciation), as well as measure words and characters in the opposite set (simplified vs traditional). And it can fill all of those automatically. Then there's stuff built-in to Anki, like statistics that let me know I've learned precisely 2521 unique characters in total, which is great for motivation. (The numbers must go up!)

I guess you will want to keep using your homegrown program, but maybe this can give you some inspiration for features to implement.

ive actually never tried anki before, but will check it out now. thks for the details!

Skritter is also really good for this.

For formulas, I find Anki to be pretty effective, because it forces me to recall the formula. I also try to put proofs and proof-techniques into Anki so I can maintain knowledge of an area without using it frequently.

That's awesome!

Really cool idea, thanks for sharing!

I have set up a battery of scripts on google app engine and Im pretty happy with it.

1. I have a script to automatically buy small amount of BTC every day

2. For the more knowledge-dense books I read, I write summaries of them (https://piszek.com/books/). I have a script that puts a random book review to my pocket for reviewing every week

3. I have an instagram account of lego minifig (https://www.instagram.com/le.traveller/). I wrote a script that likes other profiles to get traffic

4. I have a script that parses my bank e-mail statements to fill up my spending spraedsheets

5. I also have a script that parses incoming email for invoices. That system basically does my taxes

6. My GTD methodology revolves around Evernote. I have cron jobs that throw me "checklists" with stuff to do around certain times (yearly taxes, etc)

7. Using Twilio and verified number, my calendar sends personalized SMS with birthday wishes to my family that appear as they are from my number

8. Also on Twilio I have DIY voicemail that is aware of where in world am I and either routes to my current SIM card or takes a message. I also have a US number that routes any SMS to my current SIM

I recently moved, so I have to rebuild all my Smart-Home hacks. I am currently trying to automate my Intercom at home to play pre-recorded message to postman and let him in automatically

I gotta say, #7, if something were to happen to you would be pretty scary. Have you considered that scenario? Tying the delivery of messages to some kind of manual online activity (e.g. recent emails sent)

Haha I thought of this too, imagine you're working for clients and you just died and this condition is met and they receive this email saying "If you received this email, then I am probably dead."

Why doesn't #7 send a message to you so you can wish them happy birthday?

Because a calendar reminder was already not helping himmer send out the greeting.

Source: doesn’t work for me.

You must miss a lot of meetings and appointments.

There are quite a few Android apps to "Schedule SMS". Anyone have a personal recommendation?


This one gets bonus points for being MIT-licensed:


To the best of my knowledge it is not possible to send SMS messages in an automated fashion on iPhone, you might as well use calendar reminders.

I like the idea of "a battery of scripts" I wonder about legality if say your code scrapes sites or does something uncool.

Anyway, yeah I've got that problem right now wrote code for a specific stack need to just drop it into a server that's not mine/easy for client to use.

I'm kind of curious about #1 regardless of the price you buy? What if it was like that day the ICO was banned and it dropped like $800 or whatever.

Wouldn't it be good to buy on the day it dropped $800? Then you have either - more BTC than expected for the same $ - spend less $ on the same amount of BTC

Yeah it would be good in that case but would the buy go up since it was cheaper and go down when it was more expensive sort of thing.

Curios, why don't you post summaries on http://www.wikisummaries.org ?

For #6, are you storing checklists in Evernote as well? Just reading through GTD right now, is this to replace the "Weekly Review" concept in the book so it is automated?

I'm looking to implement a GTD-like system myself, and any automation is helpful.

#7 is genius. For lazy folks like me, that is a great way of wishing people bdays :)

Make sure you receive a notification of delivery, so you have an idea of why people are randomly thanking you months after you've forgotten about setting such a thing up.

For everyone who wants to get #7, I have created a mailing list to build this as a service.


Why do you buy BTC every day? Is it cheaper than just buying once?

Helps with the volatility.

Do you have any special way of avoiding transaction fees? It would seem to me that buying a small amount daily would rack up lots of transaction fees?

I guess it just spreads the cost, as getting one bitcoin at once is getting a bit prohibitive these days.

I just realized that [7] probably works only because of [8] - I always give my Twilio phone number to people and pretend with my family that this is my main number.

That is why he mentioned "verified phone number" I guess. When you have verified your own phone number you can send texts from it as well.

According to twilio's documentation you cannot send sms messages from verified phone numbers, only twilio owned phone numbers.


Do you happen to have any of these available on GitHub? Particularly #7 would be very useful.

Is the script for #3 up on Github by chance? I'd love see how you went about doing that!

Are you able to preserve the original caller ID when forwarding SMS?

Twillio has to validate the number before allowing you to use it: https://support.twilio.com/hc/en-us/articles/223179848-Using...

That's only for calling. Twilio's docs say they do not support SMS sending from verified (not twilio owned) phone numbers.


Does it count if it doesn't FEEEEL like work???

I started an escape room business for fun, and have been enjoying the heck out of writing custom software for the rooms. Both in-room and for administration.

My favorite is a javascript "OS" that I use to put imaginary windowed environments in the room, but the players never actually leave a full-screen browser.

It does full window management and all the regular UI stuff so it feels super normal to the players. My favorite part is that I don't use jQuery. That was just a little challenge I created for myself for fun.

Now my rooms have a login prompt of any kind, and I can then create windows with any kind of HTML/JS/CSS content for solving puzzles, extra clues, etc. I can use an RPi and control maglocks from the computer, light up LED's, or even communicate with wireless props.

I run a kiosk add-on for the browser and physically hack the keyboards so certain keys don't even work in the rooms. No F11 or Ctrl-Alt-Del without access to the netbooks or RPi's locked away in hidden compartments.

I also created a lot of room management software for timers, sending hints into the rooms on tablets, etc.

Nice! If you don't mind me asking, how profitable is the room?

I'd also like to know this. I'm fascinated by their business model and I see them popping up all over.

Awesome, not too far away from Spokane, WA!


I wonder if there's a market for re-selling experiences to other locations.

nice. Still dreaming of open my own computer shop or more preferrable something like those japanese gaming/cmputer/anime/movie/manga cafes.

this definitely count, and it doesnt feel like work for me too :)

Dodging the f*ing lightning in the desert area of FFX. I spent hours in that section as a kid, never managing to dodge more than 20 bolts in a row... When it came out for PC, it was time for revenge!

I captured video input with a simple python+QT script and emitted a button-press whenever the screen flashed. The best part was that the script didn't interfere with my controller - I could run around the area opening chests and battling random encounters, all the while getting closer to the 100-contiguous-dodges prize!

Sure - a memory editor would have had the same effect in 5% of the time - but this was _way_ more rewarding.

On the video game kick, I remember needing to do a massive number of laps in Gran Turismo 3 to unlock something.

Turns out the low-tech solution of using an insanely fast car (Escudo), taping down the controller's gas button and just letting it do laps while grazing the wall worked. Some time later I looked back and had won.

I remember using a rubber band to tie the thumbstick of my Xbox controller in a forward position when playing Morrowind.

This made your character run into a wall, but keep running on the spot, thus levelling up your "athletics" stat.

Super speedway endurance, to get the polyphony formula one car perhaps :) I also had the same strategy.. Very handy as the car was one of 4 randomly gifted and that was one boring track.

I also did this! I think I set the throttle to be controlled by the joystick, then used a rubber band to keep it going. It was so very satisfying for such a low tech solution, and I think the prize was the car I really wanted. Fun memory.

Similarly, the game "Hyper Light Drifter" had a number of challenges, and even a pretty hefty achievement, which required the character to dash really quickly without touching any boundaries.

On PC, you could use a keyboard script to repeatedly press the dash key every 500ms and steer with the mouse. Something that was pretty difficult with a controller.

I loved this game! I got the achievement by going back and forth in the same spot. I used a dual shock controller.

There's a spot in that area where the lightning is deterministic and you can press X repeatedly. Still, your solution is cooler!

I did the same thing!

One of the biggest automation arena improvements I've made in my life is creating visual cue reminders and systems for a sort of stateful orderliness.

When the laundry basket gets full past the painter tape line, I do a load. I load the dishwasher after dinner, and unload it in the morning regardless of the volume. Got a roomba that runs every other day and cries when it's full of dirt.

I have NFC stickers that link to start webapp timers in my smart phones browser (just a url to googles timer web app, pre populated with time, I get push notifications and all that) tea brewing timer, Laundry+ Dryer, cooking, all cheap NFC sticker+ webapp

I also wrote a bot that alerts me when 3D printer deals from trusted retailers are going on. I just bought two for $160 each, with free shipping!

One of the best life hacks I found is to buy those stackable laundry baskets and sort them as you wear them instead of dumping them all in one and sorting right before doing laundry.

99% of my clothing are pants, shorts, underwear, t-shirts and socks, and I've never felt the need to sort them - everything goes into a washer, then a dryer, then gets sorted into dresser/closet. Are your clothes significantly different from mine, or is there an actual benefit to washing your socks separately from your pants?

(Or are you talking about separating things like sheets, towels, etc?)

I sort mine too - depends on the color. Darks go in cold and whites generally on hot.

I wear a lot of white sports socks. All of them are pure white after years of having them.

I've been doing the same thing for years. I have two bins each for socks, underwear, and t-shirts. when the dirty one fills, I wash it then dump into the respective clean one. The trick is to buy a full loads worth of socks, and a full loads worth of underwear which is probably an unusually large amount for most people. Throw hardware at the problem!

I do this with the small things that I need to buy, keep one roll of toothpaste (or whatever) that is being used, another in a cupboard. As soon as you take one out of the cupboard, buy new one to put in the cupboard.

Funny how a bit of sorting makes a difference. Sames goes for trash, I plan to have few bags so you can them dump each blindly.

Can you elaborate on your NFC sticker setup and how automated it is? Do you have to initiate anything manually when starting the tea or laundry for example?


So I write those links to the NFC stickers (click one on mobile)

stickers: https://www.ebay.com/i/332153052651?chn=ps&dispItem=1

Write on them with a sharpie, When I go to use it, I tap my smartphone(stock android) and it automatically launches the browser to the webapp

I'm looking to buy a basic 3D printer this week but have no significant knowledge. Mind linking the one you bought?


Caveat: You have to get around the DRM, and the software it uses to make 3d print file from an STL runs on Windows or MacOS, closed source, no Linux support. I run Windows in a VM for the slicer.

I’d love to get a 3d printer for 160! Can you point me in the right direction? (Or add me to your alert)

Newegg Business, Davinci XYZ jr 1.0

There's DRM on the filament and it's PLA only, but you can buy the key to unlock and rewrite the DRM NFC chip. I use an app on my phone to rewrite the values

DRM on the filament, so you need to buy their filament? How does that work?

The inside of the roll has an NFC chip in it. The NFC has information on color, amount of filament left, temperature settings etc.

I call it DRM because you can't edit it without a reverse engineered NFC key.

Another side to the DRM thing is that if you use inferior input material and the printer has a quality issue, customers are going to blame the printer and not the filament.

Value added DRM I guess

Is that a really good printer? I’m seeing bad reviews?

It's a printer you can get for $160. At that price I would expect more bad reviews because of unrealistic expectations.

It's an okay 3d printer. I use it for making toys, statues, etc. There are various companies that offer 3d printing as a service with different materials, precisions, surface finishes etc like stratasys, 3D hubs, xometry.

These printers are nice to prototype with before sending it to a more costly and less time investment forgiving production printer, or quick around the house jobs/play.

Feel free to reach out if you want help getting started: my username @gmail.com

Can I set up a nfc system like that for iPhone??

I believe iOS11 supports NFC, but it isn't as smooth as tapping and automatically opening the document.

How do you make the roomba cry?

There's a bin full indicator light on the back that turns on when it's full. They don't cry... yet.

Mine plays a sad song when it's full. I think it's the 595?

Many of automation ideas here bring an edge to one person at the expense of everyone else. The ideas fail completely if too many people start doing the same thing. Actual examples from people on this list:

- User pokes immigration website repeatedly to submit his application as soon as the site starts accepting. Obviously if everyone did the same thing, no one would benefit. The thing that needs fixing is an immigration system based (partly on) quotas and first come, first serve.

- User automates sending amorous messages to his girlfriend, so long as she doesn't know they're automated. If enough people did it, girlfriends would eventually find out and the desired effect would be lost (or worse, they'd feel tricked).

- User automates saving of all store coupons to his loyalty card without ever looking at the coupon. This defeats the idea of coupons (to encourage you to try something you would not have otherwise bought). If everyone did it, coupons would cease to exist.

- User automates getting into desired university class by hammering the registration site repeatedly. Needless to say, if everyone started doing the same thing, no one would benefit.

- User automated complaining to the water utility about a problem in front of his house. Once again, it might work for one person, but becomes completely ineffective if everyone does it for problems in front of their houses.

- User automated late delivery complaints to post office to get compensation. If his script becomes too widely used, the monopoly post office will simply raise prices or stop offering compensation.

> - User automates saving of all store coupons to his loyalty card without ever looking at the coupon. This defeats the idea of coupons (to encourage you to try something you would not have otherwise bought). If everyone did it, coupons would cease to exist.

That sounds like success to me, though not everyone will agree.

> - User automates getting into desired university class by hammering the registration site repeatedly. Needless to say, if everyone started doing the same thing, no one would benefit.

This was circumventing a bad process; people would benefit if everyone did it, because it would demonstrate a need for a better process.

> - User automated complaining to the water utility about a problem in front of his house. Once again, it might work for one person, but becomes completely ineffective if everyone does it for problems in front of their houses.

If everyone does it then perhaps they’ll fix things—or admit defeat and stop giving people false hope by allowing them to report such things when they have no intention of doing anything about it.

> - User automated late delivery complaints to post office to get compensation. If his script becomes too widely used, the monopoly post office will simply raise prices or stop offering compensation.

Or, just maybe, fix it. One can always hope.

If there is a bug/inefficiency to be exploited, someone will.

Not having coupons/loyalty cards is a good thing. Hammering the immigration website, hammering the university website etc might end up improving the process (hopefully?) that is also a good thing.

In a larger context, how is this different from using one's good looks, parents' connections etc to get an edge over others?

>if everyone started doing the same thing, no one would benefit

That is true, but I don't think anyone is claiming to make the world better. The question was more how individuals improve their situation, gaining a competitive edge if you will. That will always come at the cost of others, but in this case the hacks are really things almost anyone can do, so it's hard to object on moral grounds.

That isn't always true. If everyone started eating healthier and started exercising the world would benefit from a smaller demand of health care. If everyone stopped polluting the environment would be cleaner.

I think what is being talked about is something along the lines of if everyone became a minimalist then most people would be out of a job.

Well, this is exactly how financial markets function and why it's so hard to beat the market. I think these people deserve the benefits if they can come up with these solutions; none of them are inherently malicious after all.

> Many of automation ideas here bring an edge to one person at the expense of everyone else.

Except for mine. it’s a win / win when people hang out together

The end result of the immigration one is just the H1B system, where loads of checks turn up at the state departments door one day

Some of those are boarder line DDoS

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