Orthocal.info Update

I’d like to let you know about some updates to Orthocal.info and the Orthodox Daily Alexa Skill.

There are two main features that I’ve added to the site and the skill. First, both the skill and the site offer readings from the lives of the saints. These stories are taken by permission from abbamoses.com. Second is a full monthly calendar. In addition to some other minor changes, I’ve also added RSS feeds. If you use a feed reader like Feedly.com, this will give you convenient access to the readings. The monthly calendar can in theory be embedded in a website using oembed, but I haven’t tried it. It does validate on iframely.com’s validator. Contact me if you want to try it and I’ll work with you to get it into a usable state. I’m happy to work with folks on other embedding needs for parish websites or other use cases.

As always, the rubrics are based on OCA practice and don’t always line up with other jurisdictions. I wrote the original version of this site while I was attending an OCA church. I moved across the country and am now attending an Antiochian church. So… I do know that the readings aren’t always the same and that the fasting rules also vary a bit, but I haven’t built up the gumption to go through the lectionary and add support for the Byzantine lectionary. Maybe someday…

The code for the site was getting pretty stale. I originally wrote the site in Go in order to learn the Go language. However, in my day to day work, I didn’t end up using Go as I had expected. I wasn’t keeping up with the Go language (I use Python at work), and so I decided to rewrite the site in a language that’s easier for me to maintain and update. The site is now completely written in Python and Django. The source code for the site is open-source and freely available at https://github.com/brianglass/orthocal-python. The site is hosted using Google’s Firebase and Cloud Run. Hosting costs are pennies per month.

The main goal of the site has always been to power the Alexa Skill (secondarily to provide a RESTful API). I do know that Amazon has laid off a lot of its Alexa workforce, so I don’t know about the future longevity of the skill, but for now here it is. I did look into supporting the Google Home Assistant, but Google is shutting down Assistant’s conversational actions feature in favor of Android actions. I’m not an Android developer, so I’m hoping someone else will take a stab at that.

A New Alexa Skill

orthodox-crossI’d like to announce a new Amazon Alexa Skill called Orthodox Daily. The purpose of the skill is first and foremost to make it easy to experience the daily scripture readings appointed by the Church. Once you enable this skill, your Echo will be able to read these passages to you on demand. The second purpose of the skill is to provide overview information about today (or any day). Alexa can tell you if today is a fast day and what specifically is allowed (e.g. fish) along with commemorations of feasts and saints. In order to use this skill, you must first enable Orthodox Daily.

In the process of building the Alexa Skill, I also ended up building a web service that provides the same information using a RESTful api. This api is intended to be used by mobile app developers as well as parish webmasters. I may eventually build a mobile app using this api, but would be happier if someone else did it first. You can find out more details about the api on orthocal.info, which also where the Alexa skill is hosted. If you decide to use this api, please let me know so that I can ensure that I don’t break things that you are using.

Since I was in the process of building a calendar service and I’ve always wanted an Orthodox calendar feed for my Google Calendar, I also built an iCal feed with the commemorations, fasting information, and scripture references. It works in both Google Calendar and Apple’s iCal, and hopefully other calendar applications as well.

I offer thanks to Paul Kachur for working out the algorithm that figures out the readings, commemorations, and fasting times and also for collecting the information that makes up the database for this application. I could not have built these services without the work that that Paul did in his Orthodox Calendar project.

The source code is MIT licensed. Please report bugs and feature requests using the Github Issues page.