Comics Aggregator user guide

My comics aggregator (https://comics.kamens.us/) is a little tool I wrote for my own use to pull the comic strips and columns I read from the various sites that host them into a single web page so that I can read them all in one place. Word about it has gradually spread since I wrote it, so I’m not the only one using it anymore. This page explains how to use it.

Basic usage is very simple:

  1. Go to https://comics.kamens.us/.
  2. Check the things you want to read every day.
  3. Click the “submit” button (the one on the page, not your browser’s!).
  4. Bookmark the resulting page and visit it every day to see that day’s feed.
  5. If you enjoy using the aggregator and are so inclined, kick in a few bucks toward my hosting costs.

That’s it! See, I told you it was simple.

Now let’s get into more of the details…

Be careful about bookmarking time-stamped URLs

At the top and bottom of the aggregator page, you will see links to yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If you click one of those links, you’ll end up with a URL with a “stamp” query parameter fixing the aggregator at a specific day. If you then bookmark that URL, your feed bookmark will be stuck on that day forever, i.e., you won’t see today’s items when you visit your page. So if that’s not your intention, then be careful not to bookmark a time-stamped URL! Or, if you accidentally do, edit the bookmark to remove “&stamp=##########”.

Yes, by the way, this means that you can use the aggregator to view past days’ comics. Alas, it does not generally mean that you can view comics in the future. 😉

Note, incidentally, that the “stamp” query parameter accepts dates, not just numbers, so if you want to go directly to your feed for a specific day, you can add “&stamp=MM/DD/YYYY” to the URL to do that.

“1-day delay” item feeds

Some items appear twice in the list, once with and once without a “(1-day delay)” suffix. These items are sometimes published late in the day, such that if you view your comics early, they might not yet be available. If you run into this, you can switch to the delayed version of an item, which will show you yesterday’s instead of today’s, so it should always be there.

“Comics Kingdom” comics

If you try to view a comic that is syndicated by Comics Kingdom, You will see this message: “Click here for more information about viewing this strip through this aggregator.” Basically, Comics Kingdom doesn’t want you viewing their comics without paying for them. That’s perfectly reasonable, and it is not the intention of my aggregator to circumvent other people’s copyrights. Therefore, here’s what you need to do if you want to view these strips through my tool:

  1. Sign up for an account at Comics Kingdom.
  2. Email me and tell me you want to read your Comics Kingdom strips through the aggregator.
  3. I will provide you with a special email address on my server.
  4. Configure your Comics Kingdom account to use that special email address, or configure your email account to forward copies of your daily “My Comics Kingdom Royal” emails to that address (for example, it’s easy to create a filter to do this in Gmail).
  5. Early every morning, when the My Comics Kingdom Royal email arrives at my server, my server will parse it and authorize you to view the strips it contains.
  6. I will give you a private URL for accessing the aggregator. When you use that URL, you will be able to see the strips that are in your My Comics Kingdom Royal emails.
  7. To prevent my aggregator from being used to bypass Comics Kingdom’s security, each Comics Kingdom strip can only be viewed a few times through my aggregator by each authorized user, though even if you exceed that limit, you can still view the strip by logging into your Comics Kingdom account. Unless you’re in the habit of reading your comics lots of times, this shouldn’t be a problem.

To edit your subscriptions

Here’s how to add to or remove items in your feed.

To remove items

  1. Visit your feed page.
  2. Go through your feed and select “omit” for each item you want to get rid of.
  3. Click the “submit” button.
  4. If it looks right, then bookmark the new URL; otherwise, hit the Back button, fix the problem, and click “submit” again.

To add and perhaps also remove items

  1. Visit your feed page.
  2. Add “&List=include” (note: the capitalization is important) to the end of your feed URL and reload it.
  3. Select “include” for all of the items you want to keep; select nothing for the items you want to get rid of.
  4. Also select the items you want to add from the list.
  5. Click the “submit” button.
  6. If it looks right, then bookmark the new URL; otherwise, hit the Back button, fix the problem, and click “submit” again.

I know this user interface isn’t great; sorry. Remember, I wrote this for my own use, not for public consumption. 😉

Viewing multiple days at once

If you’ve been away from your feed for a while and you want to catch up all on one page, you can use the trick described above for going directly to the first day you missed, then enter the number of days you want to view into the “# of days” box at the bottom of the page and click “submit” to view all the days at once. Alternatively, of course, you can use the date links at the top and bottom of the page to catch up on your feed one day at a time.

Making the page more or less compact

You can set the width or height of all displayed comics by entering it in the “width” or “height” box and clicking “submit”. Bookmark the result if you want it to be persistent. I don’t recommend setting both the width and height, because that will distort the comics.

If you just want to see the comics, and not the headers, you can check “omit strip headers” and click “submit”. This will make it difficult to edit your feed later, so if you need to do that, then you’ll need to first uncheck the box and click “submit” to get the headers back before editing.

If you think the long, complicated URLs that the aggregator creates are really gross and you would like to share a particular feed configuration with someone else without having to copy the long, gross URL, you can click “get short link” when viewing your feed and it will give you a bitly link that you can copy and share.

API

If you would like to take advantage of the logic built into my aggregator for locating comics and columns, but you’d like to do something different then viewing them on the aggregator page, there’s a primitive API you can use to query the aggregator and get back results in text format rather than HTML:

  • If you add “&list=true” to any feed URL, then you will get back a list of comics, one per line, that would be included in that feed page.
  • If you add “&urls=true” to any feed URL, then you will get back a list of URLs, one per line, for all the items that would be included in that feed page. Note that you could get back more than one URL if you asked for multiple days, or if there are multiple URLs for an item in a single day (e.g., some columnists publish both a column and a live chat on the same day).
  • You can add ‘&numdays=#” to fetch multiple days as described above.
  • You can add “&stamp=MM/DD/YYYY” as described above to fetch a particular day.
  • If you want to construct a URL to explicitly specify one or more items to fetch, the URL format would look like this: “https://comics.kamens.us/cgi-bin/comics?which=specified&comic name=include” (specify “&comic name=include” more than once to fetch multiple items).

Putting this all together, suppose you wanted to write a script which fetches all the items in your feed every day and does something separately with all of them. Your script would first fetch your feed URL with “&list=true” appended to it. Then, it would iterate through the returned content lines, i.e., the names of all available comics for that day, and construct a “which=specified&comic name=include” URL for each of them, and fetch it. Each such fetch would return the URLs for the specified comic, which you could then do whatever you want with.

How to get help

Please email me if you have any comments about the aggregator, encounter any problems, or would like me to add a new comic or column to it. I’ll do the best I can to help.

Don’t forget to kick in a few bucks toward the hosting costs if you find this service useful.

 

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