Engineering Notes

Engineering Dept.

Phew, it’s been a busy few months in the Engineering Dept., but the last fortnight has been especially full on.

Last week we released the new version of ARTHR to a few customers who had used the old one, to see what they thought of it.

We received lots of very useful feedback and discovered lots of bugs too, both little and large. We’re ploughing through all of that at the moment, releasing tweaks and fixes a few times a day. Thank you everyone who helped out.

The first 90% of the project is always great: you’re breaking new ground, inventing something new, and everything is exciting and good.

The second 90% of the project gets a bit trickier: now you have to make difficult compromises about how to prioritise your time, and the realities of putting your creation into the hands of other people hit home.

We’re well into the third and final 90%. Tracking down frustrating browser bugs, trying to fix the problem with bad connections from corporate networks, wrangling the produced PDFs to be prepress ready.

The good news is that every couple of days I surface from wrestling an especially gnarly PDF problem, or tweaking the server configuration, and I go and have a proper play with it. And I think it’s still good.

For a little flavour here’s a spin through that I just recorded. (Play spot the bug!)

Posted by Tom | Comments (2)

Filed under: engineering

Week 160

The date of the first blog post (well, not the very first) tells me this is Week 160 of Newspaper Club, or day 1,120.

We’ve not been as talkative as we used to be about running the business. That’s mostly because there’s a lot more business than there used to be – both customers, and all the stuff to support that: profit and loss reports, management accounts, Skype calls, meetings, planning.

But that’s no excuse. We’re into the really difficult stage of running a business. We’re still small, but there’s real money, real jobs and real pressures. But, this is also where the meaty stuff is. We’ve learnt a lot, and we’re learning even more. Those thing seem worth sharing, and if not for you, then for our own sake. We’re going to try harder.

So, what’s going on?

For a start, we’ve had two brilliant new people join us. Rosemary is up in Glasgow working full-time with Anne, Emily and Silje to manage all operations, customer service, and well… everything. This is brilliant, because a) Rosemary is brilliant, and b) Anne can go on holiday now.

And Mike is down in London, working with me, to develop the site and future products and services. This is brilliant, because a) Mike is brilliant, and b) I can go on holiday now. He’s sat to the right of me, looking very serious, staring at the Backbone.js documentation.

We’ve been joined part-time over the summer by Jase, who is helping us with some design work. He’s sat opposite me, doing some typing wearing a great pair of red headphones.

Untitled

Behind me is a whiteboard. It says: “ARTHR II: PRINT HARDER”, with lots of post-it notes underneath.

Untitled

I’m really worried about talking about stuff before it’s real. Talk is easy, and shipping is hard. But dammit, I’m really excited about this. So, if you promise not to hold us to it, we’re completely overhauling ARTHR, using everything we’ve learnt about how people have used it over the last couple of years. When there’s something to show, you’ll see it here first.

Anyway, I need to stop typing this, and go and read some blog posts about how to test asynchronous Javascript with QUnit. Onwards.

Posted by Tom | Comments (5)

Filed under: engineering, running a business

For Immediate Release: The Next Generation of PDF Uploading Solutions

MD and Customer Service have gone for lunch, so it’s time for Engineering to get on the blog and crank out a badly worded and ill-informed press release full of crimes against verbs. Hold onto your browser.

Newspaper Club (London, United Kingdom & Glasgow, Glorious Independent Republic of Scotland), are pleased to announce the release of the next generation of PDF uploading.

This significant advancement will make it even easier to leverage the Newspaper Club printing platform, and seamlessly synergize your credit card with our state of the art Web-Site.

From today, all PDF files uploaded to Newspaper Club will be scanned by the unique PDF management solution before ordering. Valued customers will immediately receive a report detailing common issues, with helpful hints on how to resolve them going forward.

Common issues, such as fonts not embedded correctly, or the use of spot colours, will be highlighted in a simple report, indicating the page or the area in which they occur, allowing the customer to take action to resolve them, or to proceed regardless.

Anne Ward, Managing Director at Newspaper Club, noted, “Newspaper Club is a world leader in the uploading and ordering of PDFs for newspaper printing purposes, and this advance will cement our position at the top of the table.”

The 1700 page PDF file specification has almost killed me, so this better be worth it”, mumbled Tom Taylor, Head of Engineering. “But I ask customers with any feedback about this valuable service to send it in, allowing us to action their comments.”

Newspaper Club’s commitment to and sponsorship of the innovative, open source, Ruby based, pdf-preflight gem will enable others to leverage their effort and contribute onward improvements.

About Newspaper Club:

Newspaper Club helps anyone make and print their own newspapers. Since 2009, Newspaper Club has printed more than a million newspapers, and in 2010, was the recipient of a Design Museum Designs of the Year award. Learn more at www.newspaperclub.com.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: engineering

New! Embed Your Newspaper on Your Site

We’ve just added a little feature to the Newsagent. You can now embed a newspaper on your site, just by copying and pasting the HTML code provided on each paper’s page.

For example, here’s the paper that started it all:

And seventhirtyeight, which Anne wrote about earlier today:

There’s a nice little scroller, and you can click through to the paper on the Newspaper Club site. The medium size is designed to fit neatly into a typical blog post, and there’s a slightly larger option too.

By default anyone can embed a paper, but if you want to turn it off, just untick the option in the sharing settings.

It turns out writing the code to do this is a bit tricker than we thought, so if you notice the design looking a bit wonky on your site, please let us know.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: developments, engineering

It’s Nice to Share

I had dinner with some friends a while ago and we were chatting about what Newspaper Club was up to. The conversation went something like this:

Him: “What kind of things do you print then?”
Me: “Oh well, all sorts of stuff really.”
Him: “Like local newspapers and things like that?”
Me: “Yes, some of those, but really just anything that people want to put on newsprint: comics, portfolios, wedding papers, wrapping paper.”
Him: “Wrapping paper?”

This seems totally normal to me now. Wrapping paper: of course! But that’s because I’ve spent a couple of years watching people print all manner of things, and now it’s a typical week when someone prints a newspaper full of wrapping paper, or a collection of beautiful lines, or photography about a bus stop.

But for our customers, apart from our blog posts, there’s no way of seeing the full range of stuff that other people are printing. We want to surface more of these fantastic papers; to give people a space to show off what they’ve made, and why and how they did it, beyond the reach of the printed paper.

So today we’re beginning that. There’s now an option on each newspaper in your dashboard to share it:

Sharing Settings

There’s space to write a few words about it, to choose how much of it you want to share, and to tag it with a few keywords. You’ll end up with a page like this one of prettymaps from my profile, that you can share with anyone:

prettymaps

And a profile page for you or your organisation that looks a bit like this one by We are Words + Pictures:

prettymaps

When we’ve got a few more newspapers shared, we’ll open the Newsagent: a portion of the site to allow anyone explore all the shared newspapers, searching by tag or description to find papers they might be interested in. And we’ll be featuring papers and publications that we love on the front page and throughout the site.

But that’s a post for another day. For now, give it a go, and let us know if you have any feedback.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: developments, engineering, news

Looking for Beta Testers

We’re looking for beta testers for a new bit of the Newspaper Club site. If you’ve made a newspaper with us, either in ARTHR or uploaded as a PDF, and are interested in promoting it, sharing it, or just having a page for it on our site, then we’d love to hear from you.

Drop us an email to newspaperclub@newspaperclub.com, with the subject line ‘Beta Testing’ and the email address of your account. If you’ve got some of the details of the paper you made, that’d be great too. We can’t guarantee we’ll get back to everyone, but we’ll try our best.

The rest of you: the Newspaper Club Newsagent is coming soon.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: developments, engineering, news

Alpha Release of the Newspaper Club API

Day 13

Much of our inspiration for starting Newspaper Club is down to Aaron Straup-Cope, and his Papernet projects. Aaron’s thoughts on how paper and printed media can be a natural part of the web and the “network” encouraged us to play around, led to experiments with newspapers, and lo: Newspaper Club was born.

A lot of what we do at Newspaper Club is about making it easy as possible to access newsprint: to lower the barrier of entry and let people make whatever they want. We’ve built ARTHR, our layout tool, we’ve written lots of help pages, and we try and be helpful on email and the phone, all to try and make it as easy as possible.

But we want to make it easier for machines too. Because why should humans have all the fun? Machines should be able to make good looking newspapers too.

So, today we’re launching the alpha release of the Newspaper Club API. The API provides programatic access to ARTHR, letting you write tools and apps that generate newspapers from any content you have.

We’ve written some API documentation which should help you along the way. We know it needs fleshing out in places, but if you’ve got any suggestions for what we’re not explaining very well, please let us know.

As a demonstration, we’ve built a tool nicknamed The Telepaper, that turns a Readability Reading List into a newspaper with just a couple of clicks.

As luck and timing would have it, The Engineering Dept. entered this in Readability’s API contest and are very pleased that it won third place! Hurrah! (Thank you Readability folks.)

The Telepaper is a very simple Ruby Sinatra application that glues the Newspaper Club and Readability APIs together. All the source code is available on the Newspaper Club Github account, and you can try the application for yourself if you’ve got a Readability account.

If you’d like to have a go with the API yourself, you’ll need an API key from us. First take a look at the documentation, then drop us an email containing your Newspaper Club account’s email address, an OAuth callback URL, and a brief description of whatever you’re playing around with, if you know. We’ll have a web interface for this as we tidy things up and enter the beta stage.

We’ll be honest: this is going to be a bit of a learning curve for us. Running an API is hard. And mapping the concepts of print layout to an API is hard. So it’s likely that we won’t have got it right first time. Do let us know your thoughts.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: engineering, news

Engineering Update: ARTHR changes and the upcoming Newspaper Club API

We’ve been making lots of tweaks to ARTHR recently, based on your feedback. We’re not quite there yet, but very soon there will be more fonts and colours to choose from, a selection of beautiful cover pages, finer control of where stories are positioned, and more.

And we’ll have news for developers interested in building services that generate newspapers using ARTHR’s layout technology. Our Newspaper Club API is in the process of being documented and tidied up. We’ll post here when we’re looking for people to be beta testers.

But today we’re just making a few changes to help us get ready for all that. When your ARTHR newspaper next refreshes (later today), you may notice that some of the typography has changed in places – the fonts style and sizes might look slightly different. You might find that stories start and finish in slightly different places, or that there is more or less room after them. Or you might not notice anything at all.

We’re making these changes today so that you have time to adjust your paper before our next print run on Tuesday.

As always, if you have any feedback on ARTHR, or anything else, please let us know at newspaperclub@newspaperclub.com.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: developments, engineering

Some Brief Downtime

Just a brief note from the Engineering Dept.

The website will be offline from 2pm GMT on Thursday 17th March (tomorrow), for up to two hours. This is so we can make some behind the scenes changes to the site, including some performance improvements in ARTHR.

We’ll still be contactable by email, at support@newspaperclub.co.uk.

Anyway, as you were.

Update: This has been completed – we’re all up and running as normal.

Posted by Tom | Comments Off

Filed under: engineering

Bigger papers and smaller runs

10 september - 07 47

(the picture above was taken from Hybrids, a show at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, that features some of the stuff that Newspaper Club has printed)

When we first started Newspaper Club we set a number of restrictions to make it as simple as possible for us to get up and running, and to limit the number of things that could go wrong.

One of those was pagination: on day one, you could only print a 12 page newspaper. It made it easier for us to calculate the shipping costs and deal with logistics, and it felt like a reasonable compromise – 12 pages is thick enough to feel like a proper newspaper, but not so thick that it’s hard to fill.

But we’ve grown up, and many of our customers want a bit more flexibility. So, from today, you can print anything from 4 to 64 pages (in multiples of four, obviously).

Hurrah! Head on over to the pricing page to find out what it’ll cost you.

In addition, we’re now able to offer lower quantity full colour runs – now as few as 300 copies, down from the 500 minimum before. We know that you want even lower quantity colour runs, and we’re working on it, but we’re not quite there yet.

Posted by Tom | Comments (2)

Filed under: developments, engineering

← Newer Posts | Older Posts →