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What I read in February 📚

The New Voices of Science Fiction, Hannu Rajaniemi (ed.) Some good stories, some not as good. A week later, nothing stands out as memorable. Wait, yes. “Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer. Won a Hugo (as did a couple others I think). That one I remember being really fun.

That’s it. I’m mired in an Alistair Reynolds book that I haven’t decided to give up on, yet, and the free copy of Borne I got, which is okay, but requires sort-of slower, closer reading. Feels more like work than fun, so I don’t do it as often.

Messages quit unexpectedly.

It might be the year of Linux on the desktop. Would be hard to leave the family's Apple-app lock-in; Messages becoming useless solves much of that problem.

screenshot of failing app

  • os x
  • messages
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11ty and podcasting

11ty is a static site generator. At the top of this list, they include "eleventy-base-blog", a template that you can fork to start a... basic blog.

It didn't take a huge amount of work to add a podcast template to that base. The result is my extremely-just-a-hobbyist, simple take on a podcast platform -- hc-podcast.

The 'base-blog' has an RSS helper already installed, so most of the work of adding a podcast feed to it comes from this pod.njk template, and data from two sources:

  1. A bunch of one-time data at the top of the feed that comes from _data/metadata.json. Like the RSS helper code, that JSON file was already in the starter; I just added a bunch of podcast-specific key-value pairs. You'd obviously customize these for your own podcast.

  2. Per-episode data from markdown files. I've cleverly saved them in a subfolder called episodes. At the bottom of pod.njk, there's a loop that goes through collections.podcasts. In practice what this means is that 11ty will look for markdown files with a podcasts tag, and create an XML entry for each.

Random notes:

  • I have no idea what industry-standards exist around podcast XML files. Googling the subject results in a cesspool of spam. I created my template after skimming a couple of feeds from well-known podcast studios.

  • My image(s) and audio files are hosted on a $5/mo Linode server (that also does a bunch of other dumb things) and would not likely stand up to high traffic. I'm sure there are a thousand solutions out there, for this issue, but I'm just building a goof for myself with free or nearly-so tools. (If you do a global repo search for porknachos.com, you'll see the files I'm hosting externally. As of this writing, it's just a 1600px square image for the overall feed and an audio file for each markdown episode.)

  • Because I'm not actually a podcaster, I needed some sample audio. I wanted something that I could generate routinely, so I dipped into an older goofy project and found a way to make it even weirder, thanks mostly to ffmpeg and Mac OS's say command. The way I'm creating the episodes might be the subject of a different post; in any event, anyone giving this repo a try would clearly come to it with their own audio files.

  • Which reminds me that the biggest headache here is that you have to create the markdown files more-or-less by hand. Type in all the frontmatter (title, keywords, etc), and get the audio's byte-length and duration from the Finder (or whatever). I've automated this for myself, in connection with the autogenerated content, but I haven't incorporated a more-generic form into this repo, for auto-generating the markdown files and their frontmatter.

  • And which reminds me, if you delete all my markdown files and restart before you add any of your own, 11ty will crash because collections.podcasts is empty. I stubbed my own toe on that, once or twice.

What I read in January 📚

Fiction:

  • Agency, William Gibson. Wm.G. doesn't write vital books anymore, he writes William Gibson books. Like U2 doesn't release vital records, now. They just got really good at making U2 records. Maybe you like 'em, maybe not. Maybe it's... (hate to say)... tedious.
  • The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi. H.R., on the other hand, is writing b a n a n a s fiction. I almost gave up on this as too wacky. I wish I were 15 again and there was no internet and not enough books so you just read the ones you had, over and over. This needs to be read over and over.
  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. A supposed "classic" from the Vietnam era. I knew I wouldn't like it; I roll my eyes at pretty much all fawning-over-the-military sci-fi. I was right. I'm stunned that Scalzi wrote a worshipful intro for a recent reprint. "The UN forced the planet's men to live homolife!" Okay, sure. That's how it works. Yep. (If you read it as a right-wing "this is what will happen if you don't vote for Goldwater!", it's still f-ing stupid.)
  • Full Throttle, Joe Hill. Stephen King's son writes modern-era Stephen King stories. I stopped halfway through.

Somehow that's all I read but I feel like I've been going non-stop all month. I'm 33% into another A. Reynolds monster (the sequel to Blue Remembered Earth) it's good but a bit of a slog. Maybe that's it.