I gave a tour of Workantile this week to a prospective new member who shared her experience working out of The Wing’s DC branch. We got to talking about how WeWork and The Wing were valued in the billions and hundreds of millions of dollars, respectively, before crashing to nothing. Those valuations were clearly absurd, but as a coworking insider, I’ll go a step farther and say there’s not much money in operating a coworking space.
That doesn’t mean coworking spaces aren’t valuable. Workantile has grown friendships, mentorships, careers, side projects, community services and made its members significantly happier. We kick around ideas, eat together, share recommendations and hand-me-downs. A long-time member swears that Workantile saved her marriage. But those benefits accrue to members and their networks and can’t easily be monetized by the space.
And it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t create coworking spaces. On the contrary, now’s a perfect time. Office rents are down, the boom of newly-remote workers are getting lonely, and concern about COVID transmission is receding. But don’t launch a coworking space – or invest in someone else’s – thinking you’ll get rich. The numbers don’t work.
This is the story of how the City of Ann Arbor adopted Apache Superset as its business intelligence (BI) platform. Superset has been a superior product for both creators and consumers of our data dashboards and saves us 94% in costs compared to our prior solution.
As the City of Ann Arbor’s data analyst, I spend a lot of time building charts and dashboards in our business intelligence / data visualization platform. When I started the job in 2021, we were halfway through a contract and I used that existing software as I completed my initial data reporting projects.
After using it for a year, I was feeling its pain points. Building dashboards was a cumbersome and finicky process and my customers wanted more flexible and aesthetically-pleasing results. I began searching for something better.
Being a government entity makes software procurement tricky – we can’t just shop and buy. Our prior BI platform was obtained via a long Request for Proposals (RFP) process. This time I wanted to try out products to make sure they would perform as expected. Will it work with our data warehouse? Can we embed charts in our public-facing webpages?
The desire to try before buying led me to consider open-source options as well as products that we already had access to through existing contracts (i.e., Microsoft Power BI).
I miss writing this blog. Things have been busy. I draft posts in my head but nothing has gotten onto the virtual page. I’ve meant to blog some recent happenings: a nice win at work, my beloved bike commute that is about to change, getting a heat pump, plants I’m growing. I hope I still will.
I stopped using my last regular social media outlet. Mastodon was a nice improvement on Twitter but it was still sucking up my attention. That leaves me without a place to write and share shorter posts. Maybe I can get comfortable blogging faster and more briefly.
On the plus side, I have been back in the groove of working on my novel manuscript. I am more than halfway through line editing and made a pact with a friend to finish this edit by June 23rd (somewhat arbitrary, but I need a deadline). Perhaps when that’s done I’ll write more here.
Here’s a micro-update: I am enamored with Silphium terebinthinaceum, aka Prairie Dock. Gangly, deep-rooted, whimsical flowers, leaves so ugly they’re pretty. I thought about writing an ode to the plant but someone else already did the job nicely. My two Prairie Docks came back this spring and there’s a new one that might survive to join them. Around Ann Arbor there are some nice specimens in the YMCA’s wildflower garden and along the Stadium Blvd bridge, between the bridge and Graydon Park.
Like most people in Ann Arbor, I awoke last Thursday to a chilly, quiet home. The ice storm had knocked out power. I took a walk around the neighborhood after the ice had finished accumulating and before it melted.
Maples are a small share of trees in my neighborhood but they made up the majority of trees I saw that had suffered major storm damage. Winter tree identification is a challenge for a novice like me, but I can often spot the common species of the maple family (Acer ) from their shape and bark. And because of the mild winter we’ve had, Ann Arbor’s maples were already sporting distinctive buds. I wasn’t able to pin down the species of maples I saw, but I remembered some individual specimens from their summer leaves. These were mostly Norway maples and silver maples.
Here’s a picture I took of ice-encased buds on a branch that had crashed to the ground:
Norway maples are an invasive species in Michigan and are now reviled across North America. Unfortunately, they were planted for years in cities, including in Ann Arbor. Silver maples are native to Michigan. Both species are known for being fast-growing, weak trees that are especially prone to storm damage.
On Sunday I was out on foot and bike and snapped a couple of pictures of maple trees that had failed:
(Please comment if you recognize specific species – I hope I didn’t get overconfident with my winter tree ID!)
The streets near my home are lined with mature oaks and I was struck by how little damage they suffered. One neighbor in particular has a dozen towering oaks and hardly had to clean up a branch. It got me wondering, what share of the electricity outages were attributable to the planting of maples near the power lines? If planting hardier trees would have avoided even a small fraction of outages, that might translate into fewer days without heat and refrigeration for many.
I am no expert here, just speculating from what I notice on the streets. I’d be curious to hear from urban foresters, arborists, and lineworkers who cleaned up the tree damage. I wonder, though, if we could build a little resilience against future outages by replacing and eliminating Norway maples and ensuring that silver maples are planted far from vital infrastructure.
In the meantime, my understanding is that the sap of the Norway maple has enough sugar to render it into syrup. And I’ve made syrup myself from silver maples. I have all of the equipment needed for syrup-making, but no maple tree to tap, and it’s unlikely I’ll get to it this spring. Let me know if you want to borrow my setup. And plant strong tree species.
Last week I turned 39 years old. A few people pointed out that next year will be the big four-oh, but I see more significance in this birthday as a milestone delineating the portions of my time on earth.
Halves: if I have a typical lifespan, this moment is just about the halfway point of my life! That striking observation has me taking stock of things.
I hesitated to write this as many of my friends reading this are older than me and it implies that their lives are mostly over. But me not writing it doesn’t change that. It feels right to me to acknowledge the finitude and preciousness of life, whatever age one is.
Thirds: this accounting neatly renders my life into three acts of twenty-six years each. Which works out perfectly in my case: I had my first child at 26 years old and my youngest child will become a legal adult when I’m 52.
That makes a third of my life without children; a third of my life as a parent of young, at-home children; and a third of my life with adult children. This midpoint of my life is also the halfway mark of me having children at home.
Quarters: a quarter of this life would be nineteen-and-a-half years. That interval coincides with the two biggest lifestyle changes I’ve made, both related to diet.
These are notes from Jan 2023 me to future me – here’s what you need to know:
To fix the 2007 Pegasus [is that a Home Depot brand?] widespread two-handled faucet on the upstairs bathroom sink
About fixing leaking sink faucets more generally
Diagnosis. Figure out if the hot or cold is leaking by turning off the water supply lines one at a time.
The part to change to stop the dripping is the cartridge (in a one-handled faucet) or, in this widespread two-handle bathroom sink, the faucet stem. It comes with a new retaining clip. Cartridge vs. faucet stem is mostly a matter of terminology.
I saw that “gas stove ban” is the topic of this 24-hour news cycle (Terrain has a good recap and analysis) and I realized I hadn’t blogged about ditching my gas stove. It’s an opportunity for to drop some timely #content.
In March 2022 we had a bunch of electrical work done on our house. It was built in 1914 and had knob-and-tube wiring in the walls. Which meant we couldn’t blow insulation into the walls due to the fire risk and paid too much for homeowners insurance. So we got new wiring and insulation, increasing comfort and peace-of-mind and saving money each month on heating/cooling and insurance.
We took advantage of the timing to get a 240V line run to the kitchen and upgraded our stove from a Viking gas range & oven to an electric induction unit. It’s been great. Here are some pros/cons of the change for me. I’m skipping the obvious ones you’d find in general comparisons like, it’s good that my cooking doesn’t involve fossil fuels and the indoor air is cleaner and it was bad to have to buy some new cookware.
Spills/boilovers are easy to clean up. I boiled over oil (!) while deep-frying corn dogs and it was no big deal.
My kids can take a more involved role cooking since there’s no flame and less heat.
In general there’s less cooking heat in the kitchen. Whereas excess heat from the Viking oven once melted a salad spinner that was sitting nearby.
More precise temperature control and more powerful output. I benchmarked flame vs. induction for time to boil 1 quart of water, that could be its own post but induction won.
More digital controls in general. Maybe a fancier gas range would have had automated stop-baking times, I dunno, but mine was Viking brand and it didn’t even have a temperature readout on the oven.
Visual indicators make it less likely that I leave a burner on low and forget about it.
A bit of a learning curve.
On a gas stove I’d turn off a pot of rice or hard-boiled eggs and leave the residual heat to finish the job. I’ve learned that on the induction, I need to leave it on low.
And I had perfected stovetop popcorn in my old stockpot, which wasn’t induction-compatible. Now I’m learning the nuances of cooking popcorn in a stainless steel pot.
I liked my old range better as a pot-drying rack at the end of the night. There were more nooks and crannies to wedge the pans in and water drops didn’t pool.
Overall, the induction range has been an improvement and I am pleased to be rid of my old stove. Some of the changes involved in decarbonizing our lives and society are uncomfortable, e.g., facing a reduction in air travel. But this one has been a simple upgrade for our kitchen and our lives.
I still like the idea of spotlighting open-source products that deliver a superior experience while operating under a model that benefits users and society. Last month I wrote about gathio, the event planning site. You can find my musings about FOSS (free, open-source software) in that post. This one will be shorter.
The obvious choice for today would be to write about Mastodon, the decentralized open-source alternative to Twitter. I’m active on the server for Washtenaw County and I support the project on Patreon. However, a good look at the project and its features would take more time than I can muster at present.
But I got this post idea from Masto. Someone asked for recommendations for a podcast app. And as I recommended the lovely AntennaPod to yet another person, I realized I could plug it here too.
I’ve been using AntennaPod for almost a decade, since its early days. It was decent even as it was getting built out, but in the past few years it has stabilized as feature-complete and rock solid.
AntennaPod has all the features I could want in a podcast player. It’s easy to use. And it doesn’t track what I listen to or serve me ads. Period.
It’s free to use. If you try to contribute to support the project, you’ll see a slew of non-monetary options. Should you manage to find the small link to donate money, you’ll be deterred by a popup suggesting you oughtn’t:
So I’ll continue contributing my time and money to other open-source projects while being grateful to the folks who keep AntennaPod humming. I highly recommend it as the app to enjoy podcasts without being surveilled and/or advertised to. It’s available only for Android, not iOS.
Since writing my post Planning for a Heat Pump Furnace in Michigan, I’m getting closer to taking the plunge. I’ve learned some interesting things along the way, most of all about geothermal, which was not on my radar at first. This post looks at the near- and long-term costs of geothermal heat pumps and the incentives they create.
Does cost matter? It shouldn’t, but it does. At a societal level, the urgency of electrification is well-established. Humanity must replace fossil-fuel-burning equipment with electric alternatives and the grid that powers them must be converted to running on renewables. The future is grim if these things don’t happen.
In the face of ecological collapse, it shouldn’t much factor into the equation whether electrification costs somewhat more or less than continuing to spew carbon. At least, not at a societal level.
But for individuals faced with replacing an old gas furnace, of course cost is a deciding factor. As I got price estimates and read, I made a spreadsheet for some basic cost comparisons of geothermal vs. high-efficiency gas heat (with electric A/C). The result surprised me.
A year ago I was working on my outline for National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. And the following month I completed the challenge, writing 50k words. Progress slowed after that, but I finished the first draft of my book around May of this year. It currently clocks in at 98,354 words, longer than I’d expected.
And many of those words have got to go. No one has read my draft yet because it needs a thorough edit. At this stage the big to-dos are to fill in placeholders (“it’s in [PLACE]”, says one character to another) and slice out crud that makes the book drag.
I haven’t been prioritizing that editing. Which then bums me out because if you write a book and no one reads it does it make a sound? And while I seek to finish the thing, it’s not a chore. I enjoy returning to that fictional world.
The maples have mostly shed their leaves, while the oaks remain mostly clad. It’s NaNoWriMo time once more. I’m thinking I will participate on my own terms. This year’s challenge will be:
Work on the book at least a little every day
Get the draft to a point where it’s ready to share with an alpha reader on Dec. 1. Fill in all the placeholders and clean up as much of the rest as I can.
I have been developing an outline for another story. This one is a science-based thriller, Jurassic Park vibes but part of a tech billionaire’s sinister plot. All while celebrating one of evolution’s most incredible feats. I think it would be significantly easier to write, because (a) I’ve done it once before (b) it’s a little more basic, with more cliffhangers and less character development.
But that’ll have to wait until I make more progress with Book 1. Maybe I’ll take a crack at the thriller for NaNoWriMo 2023, if all works out.