New WordPress plugin: Printable PDF Newspaper

I've released a new WordPress plugin I've been working on for a while, "Printable PDF Newspaper."

The plugin does one thing: it generates a newspaper-style PDF document from the posts on your WordPress site.

Pick which posts you want to include, customize a few things about how they're displayed, decide which fields to display (including a QR code that links a print reader with a smartphone back to your site), and generate the PDF. You can download it for printing or save it to your media library for easy linking and sharing.

That's it. That's the plugin.

There have been other plugins that do this kind of thing, but they were usually either reliant on a third-party PDF generation service, some of which required subscriptions, or they hadn't been updated in quite a long time so the architecture was out of date. Some allow you to generate a printable version of your website, but without the focus on a newspaper-style format.

So why would you want to generate a printed thing from your online site content?

Maybe you're producing a newsletter for your campus, neighborhood or community, and you want to take the information you've already published online and hang it up on a message board. Maybe you're a small news organization that wants to tease would-be subscribers at the local diner about what you have to offer. Maybe you just want to have something to look at over your own coffee in the morning. Whatever it is, some people still enjoy encountering things and ideas through engagement with objects in the physical world, and I hope this tool helps facilitate that for WordPress publishers of all sorts.

I've been thinking about the concept for this plugin for over a year, maybe more. I hadn't made time to actually work on building it, so I assumed the idea would just fade away. When it didn't and I still found myself really wanting to see this thing in the world, I contracted out the building of a first rough version, and then spent some time reworking it to my liking. It has rough edges and there are plenty of things it could do better, but I'm proud of it as a version 1.0.

The Printable PDF Newspaper plugin is available for free on the Theme Directory, and the source is available on GitHub.

Features I hope to add in the future as my personal time allows include:

  • Saving of PDF configuration selections for easy re-use in future runs
  • More customizable header size and layout
  • Better support for additional formatting, fonts and styles
  • Filters to alter how content is selected and laid out
  • Generate QR Codes within the plugin instead of using the Google Chart API
  • Ability to auto-generate the PDF on a schedule
  • Better controls for limiting number of pages generated and controlling column breaks.

If you're a WordPress publisher and you get to try this out, I'd appreciate any feedback. Enjoy!

Podcast interview with me

I recently joined podcaster Dave Albert to talk about my adventures with entrepreneurship, what it was like to start, run and eventually wind down a technology business, what it's like to work for someone else, the joys and challenges of distributed work, and some of the cool stuff we're doing at Automattic. We covered a lot and it was fun to look back on all of those different parts of my professional life.

You can listen to the conversation on Dave's site, find it in your favorite podcast directory, or download a mirrored copy. Thanks, Dave, for the opportunity!

Speaking at php[world]

I'll be presenting a session at php[world] in Washington, D.C. on October 23rd, "Tools and Tips for Gluing Together the Open Web." I get to combine a bunch of topics I'm interested in: the programming language that powers 83% of the web, tools and ideas for helping people own their online homes and content, the principles behind (and discussions happening around) strengthening the open web, the publishing platform that powers over a third of websites out there, and hacky little bits of "glue" software I've written to get data in or out of a given service.

I'm excited and it looks like a great conference. (My employer, Automattic, is an event sponsor.) If you're interested in PHP, software development and/or the open web and will be in the D.C. area then, I hope to see you there.

Updated October 24, 2019: the full slides and text from my talk are here.

Air travel and the carbon footprint of distributed work

In touting the benefits of distributed models of work, which I do often, there's a temptation to make the point that not having an office building and the energy-intensive practices that go with it (commuting, for example) must translate to a lower overall carbon footprint for distributed organizations.

While I think a lower carbon footprint is a possible benefit of distributed work, and one very much worth pursuing, it should not be taken as a given.

In fact, my experiences with distributed work (and in the tech world particularly) indicate that there are many, many energy-intensive practices to be considered, including:

  • The energy required to light, heat and cool residences with home offices that might otherwise go unoccupied during the day. I imagine temperature control in cavernous co-working spaces is also energy-intensive.
  • The computing power, equipment and energy usage at the growing number of data centers that support the many online services created and used by distributed workers (from collaborative office suites to audio/videoconferencing tools to Slack-bot cottage industry startups and more).
  • Any additional tendencies for distributed workers to have supplies and equipment shipped to them individually on a regular basis, compared to bulk buying or centralized shipping to an office. (Amazon next-day delivery is killing people.)
  • The materials, production processes and energy usage of laptops, phones and other devices that facilitate working from anywhere. Yes, there might be similar energy usage in an office environment, but whereas a physically central org might have an IT staff to repair/refurbish those items, with distributed that all mostly happens via shipping and may be less likely to facilitate re-using and recycling older devices.
  • Air travel and related energy usage to enable in-person meetups of distributed workers.

The last one feels important to dwell on for a moment.

Aircraft usage and flying account for a growing percentage of the climate change impact of human activity, some estimate 4 to 9 percent. "Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year," says the New York Times, citing the EPA.

So from an energy usage perspective, "I don't commute to an office anymore" starts to feel like a bit less to celebrate if at the same time one is flying around to meetups or conferences several times per year instead. More so if your office might have been a reasonable walk or bike ride away.

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