Comics Are the Means Not the End

By | Tuesday, May 21, 2024 Leave a Comment
Back in November, I blogged about how I had created my own funny pages to automatically pull in all the comics I wanted to read. I did that because A) there was no single app or platform that does that in any meaningful capacity any more, and B) I don't want to spend an hour every morning going through a series of bookmarks and trying to remember which strips run on what frequency. As I mentioned at the time, it's very crude but it works well enough for just me. It hasn't remained static, though, as I've made updates that stemmed from either format changes (in the case of Comics Kingdom strips) or from just wanting to add another title I had either forgotton about or just discovered.

But I was working on the code yesterday, trying to add a webcomic with a sporadic posting schedule. The image file names were predictable enough, but the ad hoc posting schedule meant that I couldn't assume there would be a new comic to pull in on any given day. (And, to be 100% clear right upfront, I am not at all mad about the lack of scheduling here! Webcomics are a tough gig, and often a side-hustle. If you can't post daily, weekly, or even monthly with any regularity, I've got no issue with that! No webcomiker has any obligation to me whatsoever!) Now, they do have an RSS feed available, but the challenge for me was to set something up that could read the feed's most recent update first, check to ensure it's less than a couple weeks old, then pull out the thumbnail image file name from that update ignoring the rest of the content, rename it to follow the original source image's file name format, and then reformat the image to fit within the confines of my page. Now I'm sure this would be child's play for a dedicated programmer, but using Javascript to pull out particular elements as they're defined with CSS when I don't necessarily know what those elements even are was totally new for me. I was indeed able to figure it out, probably in about an hour. Certainly in less than two. I realized, too, that I could apply the same idea to another webcomic which posed a similar set of challenges. And the entire time I was in the code, I was making tweaks and adjustments to other comics I already had in place. Minor alignment and sizing issues, for the most part. All in all, I think I spent about three hours on things.

With the end result that it would save me maybe five or ten seconds a week maybe?

Which, if I'm mathing properly here, equates to being time-efficient if I save that full ten seconds every week for about twenty years.

But my point with doing that is NOT to be efficient with my time. I mean, yes, I do not want to spend any time in the morning trying to manually go through a list of fifty-ish comics, which may or may not be updated that day, before I've even gotten through my first coffee of the day. So the end result of having all these comics automatically updating on a single page, automatically hiding ones that have not seen an update that day, so all I need to do is scroll through them is something that makes it easier for me to keep up with various comics I enjoy. But that's not my overall end result. My overall end result is having learned more about coding than I knew previously. It's having gone through the process of sorting out what works and what doesn't and why. I could sit down and read some book or website talking about all these elements I'm using, or I could watch videos on the subject easily enough. But that would all remain just theoretical for me. Working on a comics page -- finding actual, at least reasonably practical, solutions for an actual page I want to use on a daily basis -- puts down for me a definite goal to work towards and having to figure these solutions out means that I have a better/more practical understanding of how those operations work. Which means I'll remember them.

The end goal isn't comics. Comics are just the means by which I'm educating myself. Comics make that learning process more entertaining and more satisfying, but they're not the goal themselves.
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