Set in the early-to-mid-1990s world in which the BBS is still alive and kicking, and the Internet’s gaining traction but still
lacks the “killer app” that will someday be the Web (which is still new and not widely-available), the story follows a handful of teenagers trying to find their place in the world.
Meeting one another in the 90s explosion of cyberspace, they find online communities that provide connections that they’re unable to make out in meatspace.
So yeah: the whole thing feels like a trip back into the naivety of the online world of the last millenium, where small, disparate (and often local) communities flourished and
early netiquette found its feet. Reading Incredible Doom provides the same kind of nostalgia as, say, an afternoon spent on textfiles.com. But
it’s got more than that, too.
It touches on experiences of 90s cyberspace that, for many of us, were very definitely real. And while my online “scene” at around the time that the story is set might have been
different from that of the protagonists, there’s enough of an overlap that it felt startlingly real and believable. The online world in which I – like the characters in the story – hung
out… but which occupied a strange limbo-space: both anonymous and separate from the real world but also interpersonal and authentic; a frontier in which we were still working out the
rules but within which we still found common bonds and ideals.
Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying that Incredible Doom is a lot of fun and if it sounds like your cup of tea, you should read it.
Also: shortly after putting the second volume down, I ended up updating my Geek Code for the first time in… ooh, well over a decade. The standards have moved on a little (not entirely
in a good way, I feel; also they’ve diverged somewhat), but here’s my attempt:
----- BEGIN GEEK CODE VERSION 6.0 -----
GCS^$/SS^/FS^>AT A++ B+:+:_:+:_ C-(--) D:+ CM+++ MW+++>++
ULD++ MC+ LRu+>++/js+/php+/sql+/bash/go/j/P/py-/!vb PGP++
G:Dan-Q E H+ PS++ PE++ TBG/FF+/RM+ RPG++ BK+>++ K!D/X+ R@ he/him!
----- END GEEK CODE VERSION 6.0 -----
1 I was amazed to discover that I could still remember most of my Geek Code
syntax and only had to look up a few components to refresh my memory.
After a break of nine and a half years, webcomic Octopuns is back. I have two thoughts:
That’s awesome. I love Octopuns and I’m glad it’s back. If you want a quick taster – a quick slice, if you will – of its kind of humour, I suggest starting with Pizza.
How did I know that Octopuns was back? My RSS reader told me. RSS remains a magical way to keep an eye on what’s happening on the Internet: it’s like a subscription service that delivers you exactly what
you want, as soon as it’s available.
Wait, there’s new Far Side content? Yup: it turns out Gary Larson’s dusted off his pen
and started drawing again. That’s awesome! But the last thing I want is to have to go to the website once every few… what: days? weeks? months? He’s not syndicated any more so
he’s not got a deadline to work to! If only there were some way to have my feed reader, y’know, do it for me and let me know whenever he draws something new.
Here’s my setup for getting Larson’s new funnies right where I want them:
This isn’t a valid address for any of the new stuff, but always seems to redirect to somewhere that is, so that’s nice.
XPath for finding news items://div[@class="swiper-slide"]
Item title:concat("Far Side #", descendant::button[@aria-label="Share"]/@data-shareable-item)
Ugh. The easiest place I could find a “clean” comic ID number was in a data- attribute of the “share” button, where it’s presumably used for engagement tracking. Still,
whatever works right?
When Larson captions a comic, the caption is important.
Item link (URL) and item unique ID: concat("https://www.thefarside.com",
The URLs work as direct links to the content, and because they’re unique, they make a reasonable unique ID too (so long as
their numbering scheme is internally-consistent, this should stop a re-run of new content popping up in your feed reader if the same comic comes around again).
The Far Side uses Referer: headers as an anti-hotlinking measure, which prevents us easily loading the images directly in an RSS reader. I use this tiny PHP script as a proxy to mitigate that. If
you don’t have such a proxy set up, you could simply omit the “Item thumbnail” and “Item content” fields and click the link to go to the original page.
The date is spread through two separate text nodes, so we get the content of their wrapper and use normalize-space to tidy the whitespace up. The date format then looks
like “Wednesday, March 29, 2023”, which we can parse using a custom date/time format string:
Custom date/time format:l, F j, Y
I promise I’ll stop writing about how awesome FreshRSS + XPath is someday. Today isn’t that day.
Meanwhile: if you used to use a feed reader but gave up when the Web started to become hostile to them and big social media systems started to wall you in, you should really consider
picking one up again. The stuff I write about is complex edge-cases that most folks don’t need to think about in order to benefit from RSS… but it’s super convenient to have the things you care about online (news, blogs, social media, videos, newsletters, comics, search trends…)
collated and sorted for you… without interference from algorithms that want to push “sticky” content, without invasive tracking or advertisements (or cookie banners or privacy popups),
without something “disappearing” simply because you put off reading it for a few days.
XPath for finding news items://a[starts-with(@href,'archive.php')]
Item link (URL):./@href
Custom date/time format:- Y.m.d
I continue to love this “killer feature” of FreshRSS, but I’m beginning to see how it could go further – I wish I had the free time to contribute to its development!
I’d love to see a mechanism for exporting/importing feed configurations like this so that I could share them more-easily, for example. I’d also be delighted if I could expand on my
XPath rules to load pages referenced by the results and get data from them, too, e.g. so I could use an image found by XPath on the “item link” page as the thumbnail
image! These are things RSSey could do for me, but FreshRSS can’t… yet!
It turns out that FreshRSS’s XPath Scraping is almost enough to achieve exactly what I want. The big problem is that the image server on The Far Side website tries to
prevent hotlinking by checking the Referer: header on requests, so we need a proxy to spoof that. I threw together a quick PHP program to act as a
proxy (if you don’t have this, you’ll have to click-through to read each comic), then configured my FreshRSS feed as follows:
The “Daily Dose” gets published to The Far Side‘s homepage each day.
XPath for finding new items://div[@class="card tfs-comic js-comic"]
Finds each comic on the page. This is probably a little over-specific and brittle; I should probably switch to using the contains function at some point. I subsequently have to use parent:: and
ancestor:: selectors which is usually a sign that your screen-scraping is suboptimal, but in this case it’s necessary because it’s only at this deep level that we start
seeing really specific classes.
Item title:concat("Far Side #", parent::div/@data-id)
The comics don’t have titles (“The one with the cow”?), but these seem to have unique IDs in the data-id attribute of the parent <div>, so I’m using
those as a reference.
Within each item, the <div class="card-body"> contains the comic and its text. The comic itself can’t be loaded this way for two reasons: (1) the <img
mentioned above, there’s anti-hotlink protection we need to work around.
Each comic does have a unique link which you can access by clicking the “share” button under it. This makes a hidden text <input> appear, which we can
identify by the presence of the data-copy-item attribute. The contents of this textbox is the sharing URL for
Here’s where I hook into my special proxy server, which spoofs the Referer: header to work around the anti-hotlinking code. If you wanted you might be able to come up
Item date:ancestor::div[@class="tfs-page__full tfs-page__full--md"]/descendant::h3
There’s nothing associating each comic with the date it appeared in the Daily Dose, so we have to ascend up to the top level of the page to find the date from the heading.
Item unique ID:parent::div/@data-id
Giving FreshRSS a unique ID can help it stop showing duplicates. We use the unique ID we discovered earlier; this way, if the Daily Dose does a re-run of something it already did
since I subscribed, I won’t be shown it again. Omit this if you want to see reruns.
There’s a moral to this story: when you make your website deliberately hard to consume, fewer people will access it in the way you want!The Far Side‘s website
If you’re ad-supported or collect webstats and want to keep traffic “on your site” on this side of 2004, you should make it as easy as possible for people to subscribe to content.
Consider The Oatmeal or Oglaf, for example, which offer RSS feeds that include only a partial thumbnail of each comic and a link through to the full thing. I don’t feel the need to screen-scrape those sites
because they’ve given me a subscription option that works, and I routinely click-through to both of them to enjoy their latest content!
Conversely, the Far Side‘s aggressive anti-subscription technology ultimately means that there are fewer actual visitors to their website… because folks like me work
to circumvent them.
Almost nerdsniped myself when I discovered several #WordPress plugins that didn’t quite
do what I needed. Considered writing an overarching one to “solve” the problem. Then I remembered @xkcdcomic
When this comic (go read the full thing) came out at the tail end of last year, I thought to myself: yeah, that’s about right.
I’m resharing that on my birthday in a week or so.
‘Cos I’m forty today, and I sort of had a half-baked dream that I’d throw some kind of big party and get people together. My surprise party for my
thirtieth birthday party was an excellent (and much-needed) bash, and I guess I’d thought I’d try to replicate the feel of that, but a decade on (and
not a surprise party… although in the end the last one wasn’t either).
But 2020’s the year that keeps on giving, so I’m postponing my party plans to… “some other time”. And so this comic really spoke to me.
Sara’s back! You might remember a couple of years ago she’d shared with us a comic on her first year in a polyamory! We’re happy to have her back with a slice of life and a frank n’ real
conversation about having kids in her Poly Triad relationship.
This sort of wholesome loving chat is just the thing we need for the start of 2021.
Start your year with a delightful comic about the author negotiating possible future children in a queer polyamorous triad, published via Oh Joy Sex Toy. Sara previously published a great polyamory-themed comic via OJST too, which is also worth a look.
Thieves didn’t even bother with a London art gallery’s Constable landscape—and they still walked away with $3 million.
This comic is perhaps the best way to enjoy this news story, which describes the theft of £2.4 million during an unusual… let’s call it an “art heist”… in 2018. It has many the
characteristics of the kind of heist you’re thinking about: the bad guys got the money, and nobody gets to see the art. But there’s a twist: the criminals never came anywhere near the
This theft was committed entirely in cyberspace: the victim was tricked into wiring the money to pay for the painting into the wrong account. The art buyer claims that he made
the payment in good faith, though, and that he’s not culpable because it was the seller’s email that must have been hacked. Until it’s resolved, the painting’s not on display, so not
only do the criminals have the cash, the painting isn’t on display.
The lockdown’s having an obvious huge impact on strippers, whose work is typically in-person, up close, and classed as non-essential. And their work isn’t eligible for US programmes to
support furloughed workers. So Lucky Devil Lounge in Portland decided to adapt their services into one that is classed as essential by providing a drive-through food service.
This is Erika Moen’s comic about the experience of visiting the drive-through. Her comics are awesome and I’ve shared them with you a fewtimesbefore (I even paid for the product she recommended
in the last of those), of course.
This weekend, my sister Sarah challenged me to define the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. And the more I talked about the differences between them, the more I
realised that I don’t have a concrete definition, and I don’t think that anybody else does either.
After all: from a technical perspective, any fully-immersive AR system – for example a hypothetical future version of the Microsoft Hololens that solves the current edition’s FOV problems – exists in a theoretical
superset of any current-generation VR system. That AR augments
the reality you can genuinely see, rather than replacing it entirely, becomes irrelevant if that AR system could superimpose
a virtual environment covering your entire view. So the argument that compared to VR, AR only covers part of your vision is not a reliable definition of the difference.
This isn’t a new conundrum. Way back in 1994 back when the Sega VR-1 was our idea of cutting edge, Milgram et al. developed a series of metaphorical spectra to describe the relationship between
different kinds of “mixed reality” systems. The core difference, they argue, is whether or not the computer-generated content represents a “world” in itself (VR) is just an “overlay” (AR).
But that’s unsatisfying for the same reason as above. The HTC Vive headset can be configured to use its front-facing camera(s) to fade seamlessly from the game world to the real world
as the player gets close to the boundaries of their play space. This is a safety feature, but it doesn’t have to be: there’s no reason that a HTC Vive couldn’t be
adapted to function as what Milgram would describe as a “class 4” device, which is functionally the same as a headset-mounted AR
device. So what’s the difference?
You might argue that the difference between AR and VR is content-based:
that is, it’s the thing that you’re expected to focus on that dictates which is which. If you’re expected to look at the “real world”, it’s an augmentation, and if not then
it’s a virtualisation. But that approach fails to describe Google’s tech demo of putting artefacts in your living room via
augmented reality (which I’ve written about before), because your focus is expected to be on the artefact rather than the “real world” around it.
The real world only exists to help with the interpretation of scale: it’s not what the experience is about and your countertop is as valid a real world target as the Louvre:
Google doesn’t care.
But even if we accept this explanation, the definition gets muddied by the wider field of “extended reality” (XR). Originally an
umbrella term to cover both AR and VR (and “MR“, if you believe that’s a separate and independent thing), XR gets used to describe interactive experiences
that cover other senses, too. If I play a VR game with real-world “props” that I can pick up and move around, but that appear
differently in my vision, am I not “augmenting” reality? Is my experience, therefore, more or less “VR” than if the
interactive objects exist only on my screen? What about if – as in a recent VR escape room I attended – the experience is enhanced by
fans to simulate the movement of air around you? What about smell? (You know already that somebody’s working on bridging virtual reality with Smell-O-Vision.)
Increasingly, then, I’m beginning to feel that XR itself is a spectrum, and a pretty woolly one. Just as it’s hard to specify
in a concrete way where the boundary exists between being asleep and being awake, it’s hard to mark where “our” reality gives way to the virtual and vice-versa.
It’s based upon the addition of information to our senses, by a computer, and there can be more (as in fully-immersive VR) or
less (as in the subtle application of AR) of it… but the edges are very fuzzy. I guess that the spectrum of the visual
experience of XR might look a little like this:
Honestly, I don’t know any more. But I don’t think my sister does either.
Prior to his retirement in 1995 I managed to amass a collection of almost all of Gary Larson’s The Far Side books as well as a couple of calendars and other thingamabobs. After
24 years of silence I didn’t expect to hear anything more from him and so I was as surprised as most of the Internet was when he re-emerged last yearwith a brand new on his
first ever website. Woah.
Larson’s hinted that there might be new and original content there someday, but for the time being I’m just loving that I can read The Far Side comments (legitimately) via the
Web for the first time! The site’s currently publishing a “Daily Dose” of classic strips, which is awesome. But… I don’t want to have to go to a website to get comics every
day. Nor do I want to have to remember which days I’ve caught-up with, yet. That’s a job for computers, right? And it’s a solved problem: RSS (which has been around for almost as long as Larson hasn’t) and similar technologies allow a website to publicise that it’s got updates
available in a way that people can “subscribe” to, so I should just use that, right?
Except… the new The Far Side website doesn’t have an RSS feed. Boo! Luckily, I’m not above automating the creation of feeds for websites that I wish had them, even (or
perhaps especially) where that involves a little reverse-engineering of online comics. So with a
little thanks to my RSS middleware RSSey… I can now read daily The Far
Side comics in the way that’s most-convenient to me: right alongside my other subscriptions in my feed reader.
I’m afraid I’m not going to publicly1-share a ready-to-go feed URL for this one, unlike my BBC News Without The Sport
feed, because a necessary side-effect of the way it works is that the ads are removed. And if I were to republish a feed containing The Far Side website cartoons but with
the ads stripped I’d be guilty of, like, all the ethical and legal faults that Larson was trying to mitigate by putting his new website up in the first place! I love The
Far Side and I certainly don’t want to violate its copyright!
But – at least until Larson’s web developer puts up a proper feed (with or without ads) – for those of us who like our comics delivered fresh to us every morning, here’s the source code (as an RSSey feed definition) you
could use to run your own personal-use-only “give me The Far Side Daily Dose as an RSS feed” middleware.
Thanks for deciding to join us on the Internet, Gary. I hear it’s going to be a big thing, someday!
1 Friends are welcome to contact me off-blog for an address if they like, if they promise
to be nice and ethical about it.