By Dan Moren
August 11, 2020 7:36 AM PT
Automate This: Reading comics on the regular
As a person of routine, part of my morning regimen for the last several decades is settling down with my morning cup of tea and reading some comic strips. As a kid, I’d dig through the newspaper to find the funny pages, and the full-color Sunday section was the highlight of the week.
But for the past twenty years or so, my comic strip reading has been all digital; I’ve even added a few webcomics into the mix over time.1 At some point in the dim and misty past, I put all of my comics into a folder in my browser’s bookmark bar; every morning, I would click (or later tap) that folder and all my comics would open in tabs.
As systems go, it’s fine. But it presents two challenges: first, not every comic I read updates on the same schedule. Some are seven-day affairs, like reruns of “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Doonesbury.” Others update only on weekdays. Some are just on Sundays. Others solely on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Which meant that most days I knew I would just be automatically closing some of those tabs.
In and of itself, I could handle the sheer onerous nature of having to close some tabs—the horror!—but there was another more bothersome annoyance. Many of the comics I read are served up through one of the major comics syndicate websites, GoComics. Several years ago, the site changed its interface so that when you go to the main landing page for a comic—say, again, Calvin & Hobbes—all you would see is a crop of the day’s comic, which you would then have to click to get to the full comic. That meant every comic I read on that site now required an extra, obnoxious step.
Boy, this sounds like a job for automation, if there ever was one.
A few weeks back, I finally had the impetus to create a shortcut to streamline this process. After mucking with it on and off during various beta updates, I finally ended up with a version that works pretty well and is easily customizable, meaning I can share it with people.
The whole process ended up being more complicated than I initially thought, for a few reasons. First, though I’ve spent more time in Shortcuts recently, I’m still in a scenario of having to fit my programming knowledge (derived mainly from my time as a PHP developer) into the available receptacle (creating Shortcuts), which is, at times, very much a round-peg, square-hole situation.2 Second, some of the iOS 14 beta releases had glitches that interfered with Shortcuts, meaning I had to set the shortcut aside until the next release came along.
But what I ultimately ended up with is this shortcut: It takes a list of comics, each of which has an associated schedule and a URL. When it’s launched, it checks to see which of the comics have the current day in their regular schedule, then compiles a list which it opens in tabs in Safari. And, as a bonus, if the comic in question is hosted on GoComics, it automatically edits the URL so that you’re taken directly to the full comic, rather than making you click through.3
Perhaps nobody else in the world has this particular habit. Who knows? But maybe someone out there will get something out of this shortcut. If so, you can download it at the link above and may it increase your comic reading habits a thousandfold.
- The highlight of that period was probably about 20 years ago, and I’ve given up on all but a few. ↩
- Figuring out how to loop through a multi-dimensional dictionary in Shortcuts almost broke my brain, especially as this is something I know how to do in PHP and could implement almost without thinking about it. ↩
- If I were being perhaps a little more…subversive, I would be scraping for just the comic images on the page. But that seems to take this to a different level. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
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