Vmail via FreshRSS

It’s time for… Dan Shares Yet Another FreshRSS XPath Scraping Recipe!


I’m a huge fan of the XPath scraping feature of FreshRSS, my favourite feed reader (and one of the most important applications in my digital ecosystem). I’ve previously demonstrated how to use the feature to subscribe to Forward, reruns of The Far Side, and new The Far Side content, despite none of those sites having “official” feeds.

Signup form for VMail from Vole.WTF
Sure, I could have used my selfhosted OpenTrashMail server to convert email into RSS, but I figured XPath scraping would be more-elegant…

Vmail is cool. It’s vole.wtf’s (of ARCC etc. fame) community newsletter, and it’s as batshit crazy as you’d expect if you were to get the kinds of people who enjoy that site and asked them all to chip in on a newsletter.

Totes bonkers.

But email’s not how I like to consume this kind of media. So obviously, I scraped it.

Screenshot showing VMail subscription in FreshRSS
I’m not a monster: I want Vmail’s stats to be accurate. So I signed up with an unmonitored OpenTrashMail account as well. I just don’t read it (except for the confirmation link email). It actually took me a few attempts because there seems to be some kind of arbitrary maximum length validation on the signup form. But I got there in the end.


Want to subscribe to Vmail using your own copy of FreshRSS? Here’s the settings you’re looking for –

  • Type of feed source: HTML + XPath (Web scraping)
  • XPath for finding news items: //table/tbody/tr
    It’s just a table with each row being a newsletter; simple!
  • XPath for item title: descendant::a
  • XPath for item content: .
  • XPath for item link (URL): descendant::a/@href
  • XPath for item date: descendant::td[1]
  • Custom date/time format: d M *y
    The dates are in a format that’s like 01 May ’24 – two-digit days with leading zeros, three-letter months, and a two-digit year preceded by a curly quote, separated by spaces. That curl quote screws up PHP’s date parser, so we have to give it a hint.
  • XPath for unique item ID: descendant::th
    Optional, but each issue’s got its own unique ID already anyway; we might as well use it!
  • Article CSS selector on original website: #vmail
    Optional, but recommended: this option lets you read the entire content of each newsletter without leaving FreshRSS.

So yeah, FreshRSS continues to be amazing. And lately it’s helped me keep on top of the amazing/crazy of vole.wtf too.

× ×


In the late ’70s, a shadowy group of British technologists concluded that nuclear war was inevitable and secretly started work on a cutting-edge system designed to help rebuild society. And thanks to Matt Round-and-friends at vole.wtf (who I might have mentioned before), the system they created – ARCC – can now be emulated in your browser.

3D rendering of an ARCC system, by HappyToast.

I’ve been playing with it on-and-off all year, and I’ve (finally) managed to finish exploring pretty-much everything the platform currently has to offer, which makes it pretty damn good value for money for the £6.52 I paid for my ticket (the price started at £2.56 and increases by 2p for every ticket sold). But you can get it cheaper than I did if you score 25+ on one of the emulated games.

ARCC system showing a high score table for M1, with DAN50 (score 13012) at the top.
It gives me more pride than it ought to that I hold the high score for a mostly-unheard-of game for an almost-as-unheard-of computer system.

Most of what I just told you is true. Everything… except the premise. There never was a secretive cabal of engineers who made this whackballs computer system. What vole.wtf emulates is an imaginary system, and playing with that system is like stepping into a bizarre alternate timeline or a weird world. Over several separate days of visits you’ll explore more and more of a beautifully-realised fiction that draws from retrocomputing, Cold War fearmongering, early multi-user networks with dumb terminal interfaces, and aesthetics that straddle the tripoint between VHS, Teletext, and BBS systems. Oh yeah, and it’s also a lot like being in a cult.

Needless to say, therefore, it presses all the right buttons for me.

ARCC terminal in which an email is being written to DAN50.
If you make it onto ARCC – or are already there! – drop me a message. My handle is DAN50.

If you enjoy any of those things, maybe you’d like this too. I can’t begin to explain the amount of work that’s gone into it. If you’re looking for anything more-specific in a recommendation, suffice to say: this is a piece of art worth seeing.

× ×

Scunthorpe Sans

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

 A s*** font that f***ing censors bad language automatically.

This is pretty beautiful, in a sick-and-wrong way. It’s a font which contains ligatures that can be automatically used by supported software. But instead of ligatures for things like æ and œ, this font replaces the letters of common swear words with a glyph that looks like a censor bar. So it’s an automatically-self-censoring font.

Better yet, the authors were aware of the Scunthorpe problem and attempted to mitigate it; this also provides the font’s name. Unfortunately it’s not possible to do so perfectly without adding ligatures for just about every dictionary word individually (now that would be a font) so words like shitake and cockerel still get censored. And even where the mitigation works, it produces other problems: e.g. the use of the ligature Scunthorpe means that the word cannot be broken e.g. hyphenated across two lines. Nor will letter counters work properly.

But I don’t think anybody’s suggesting that this font should actually see mainstream use. Right?