Categories
Local reporting ruminations

Advertising Overload

This post is a tirade against the ever-increasing presence of advertising in my life, prompted by attending a University of Michigan basketball game.

I went to the Crisler Center last night, where Michigan lost an exciting shootout against Long Beach State. It was entertaining. Both teams were very talented and tried hard.

I make it to a couple of Michigan sports events each year and will crown Michigan Athletics the victors and the best… at cramming advertisements into the experience. Always innovating. I’d love to see a photo series showing the interior of the Crisler Center over the decades, documenting the creep of ads.

How many ads would you think can be placed on the basket itself? Let’s count. Here’s the view of the near hoop from my seats:

That’s between four and six ads, depending on how you count: the base pad, the vertical pad (“meijer meijer meijer” lol), the State Farm pad by the rim, and a freaking TV ad mounted up top. Now let’s look to the other hoop and see what’s facing the court:

From this angle we can see there’s also the UMCU ad and the Libman ad. Each basket is adorned with seven corporate logos plus a TV that plays ads for Coke Zero and Jersey Mike’s. I wonder how many ads I saw over the course of the game. Dozens? Hundreds?

Categories
Local reporting Politics

Eliminating Medical Debt in Michigan

Want some good news? Check out this neat article about RIP Medical Debt. A group of Philadelphians raised $17,000 to buy people’s medical debt for the purpose of forgiving it. As such debt can be bought for a penny on the dollar, that $17k purchased (through the coordinating entity RIP Medical Debt) $1.6 million of local medical debt. Seventeen hundred Philadelphians are receiving letters informing them that some or all of their medical debt has been abolished.

Medical debt is an abomination. It shouldn’t exist and doesn’t in most peer countries. This is a high-impact way to do something about this scourge. And RIP Medical Debt makes it easy to organize such a fundraiser. When I read that article a month ago I thought, “maybe I’ll organize a local debt abolition fundraiser for my 40th birthday!” (coming this February).

Unbeknownst to me, some of my wonderful friends on the local Mastodon instance were thinking something similar (minus the birthday part). And they went ahead and made it happen! Which does me a huge favor as it’s one less thing I have to organize. All I had to do was donate and advertise it here. Done and done.

Here’s the link to the fundraiser: https://ripmedicaldebt.org/campaign/eliminate-medical-debt-in-michigan As of this writing, we are more than halfway toward the goal of raising $10,000, which would erase up to a million dollars of debt that is haunting Michiganders.

Please consider donating and spread the word! Consider it an early birthday gift to me. And for my non-Michigan friends, you could check RIP Medical Debt to see whether such a fundraiser exists for your region and consider starting one if not.

Categories
Local reporting

Park(ing) Day 2023 in Ann Arbor

Last month was House Party week in Ann Arbor. I made it to two of the events and thought I’d blog briefly about them. This post is about Park(ing) Day, a national day in which public parking spaces are taken over and re-imagined as something other than car storage.

I’d briefly engaged with past Park(ing) Days in Ann Arbor. This one hooked me with a serious repurposing of parking: a mini skatepark in the street! The sk8r dad crew (me and Dave-O) skated over from Workantile to check it out.

Dave-O going up the mini ramp for a rock-and-roll
Categories
Biking Imagine A World Local reporting

Envisioning the Hutchins Avenue Bikeway

It should be obvious, but I am speaking as a resident, not as an employee of the city.

Five years ago I wrote a long and detailed post making the case for a protected bike path on Ann Arbor’s North Maple Road. The city added bike lanes shortly after, which were much better than the prior situation and not as good as what I’d hoped for.

Since then I moved across the city to Hutchins Avenue. After years of driving, biking, and walking around the neighborhood, I’ve realized it’s an ideal candidate for a protected bike facility.

I’ve meant to write this post for a long time but was burdened by the idea that it had to be as robust as what I’d written before. That changed when I listened to episode 73 of the Ann Arbor AF podcast: Civic Therapy, Transportation edition. It reminded me of the need to simply do what’s right. I might get details wrong here that a transportation planner would fix in implementation – I’m not a pro – but here’s what I’m dreaming of and some of the reasons it would work.

The Vision

I’ll take any piece of this I can get, but at its best, this would be a protected bike facility beginning at the south end of Hutchins, at Stadium Boulevard. It would run north to Davis or Princeton, at which point it would jog one block east and continue north on Fifth St. Then it would run up to Bach Elementary. From there users could pick up the William St Bikeway and head into downtown.

Both Hutchins and Fifth are in need of resurfacing and a bikeway spanning both would connect outlying neighborhoods to the downtown network of protected bike lanes.

Here’s what the full version would look like. It might make more sense to connect Hutchins and Fifth on Davis, given that Davis is wider than Princeton and it’s a four-way stop.

Credit: Google Maps

The Rationale

Location & Connectivity

  • Schools: this provides a safe route for students and staff to ride to Pioneer High School. A friend of mine who teaches at Pioneer rides to work via Fifth-Princeton-Hutchins. It would also provide a safe route to and from Bach Elementary School.
  • Parallel to Seventh: for people unwilling to use the narrow bike lanes on Seventh – which is most people – this would be a low-stress alternative just one block over. I see many bike commuters and joy riders on Hutchins and Fifth already.
  • Connects Neighborhoods to Downtown: on the podcast linked above, Donnell Wyche imagines a protected bike network that would enable his kids to bike from their home on Scio Church Road to the downtown library to play the Summer Game. This would get most of the way there, as it almost links up with the buffered bike lanes on Seventh between Stadium and Scio Church.

The Physical Street

  • Resurfacing needed: both Hutchins and Fifth have stretches rated as “very poor” on the city’s pavement conditions dashboard and the bikeway installation can coincide with their resurfacing.
  • Plenty of room: Hutchins is wide, with parking on both sides of the road for most blocks. Residences have driveways and as a result the street parking is underutilized. The same is true for Fifth. To make room for the bikeway, parking could be removed on one side with no meaningful impact on residents.
  • Addresses a sidewalk gap: currently there’s no sidewalk on the east side of Hutchins north of Potter and no sidewalk on the west side south of Potter. A child riding to school on the sidewalk has to cross the street here just to continue.
Categories
Local reporting ruminations Work

Coworking spaces aren’t profitable

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.

Categories
Data analysis Local reporting Software Work

Making the Switch to Apache Superset

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.

Background

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).

Categories
Local reporting Nature

Maples and Michigan’s February 2023 Ice Storm

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:

What species is this?

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:

On Hoover near Division
At Franklin & Seventh

(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.

Categories
Climate change Imagine A World Local reporting Politics ruminations

Regular people having a very unregular thought

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò made this lovely remark on a podcast episode:

A lot of these people that we rightly respect and revere in organizing circles were just regular people who had the very unregular thought that they could do something about the world around them. And who just decided to do it.

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò

And it’s stuck with me, so I’m memorializing it here. It’s dead-on.

The most recent time I thought of it was last week, when catching up with a friend at Workantile. He had organized a group buy of solar panels for his neighbors and, in the process, learned that his subdivision’s homeowners association (HOA) bans solar panels that are visible from the street. The reason? They’re aesthetically unpleasing and will damage property values.

He then had the unregular thought that he could do something about that. So he looked into what it would take to get that rule removed. That led him to power mapping, and in particular, the HOA board of directors. And he found that no one has ever been elected to this HOA board. The member meetings never make quorum, so all board vacancies are filled by appointment. By the board. Pretty unhealthy governance.

Now he’s looking at doing something about that. That’s a bigger challenge and a very boring way to fight climate change. But it’s the right thing to do. And it’s possible, with a big enough dose of unregular thinking.

I send love and solidarity to everyone who sees something that could be better and instead of tolerating it, says, I could do something about that. And just decides to do it.

Categories
How-to Imagine A World Local reporting Making

Success at All Hands Active Repairsday

This is a love letter to Ann Arbor’s scrappy little downtown makerspace, All Hands Active. In particular, their weekly Repairsday event, which takes place on Thursdays from 6-8pm. And it’s a vignette of how they helped revive a lovely old keyboard/synthesizer.

All Hands Active is a nonprofit. Their mission is educational. I’d argue it’s political, too, though not in the common sense of the word as it relates to electoral politics or parties. Rather, there’s an ethos that you should be free to modify and repair things, that people should help and teach each other, that consumer culture and its quickly-obsolescent, disposable goods are bad, and that knowledge should be free. (Some of that might be me projecting).

So, Repairsday. Any human can bring in an object they’d like to repair. Volunteer AHA members are on hand to help. That can look like advice, diagnosis, or attempting to fix the item together. Sometimes an item can’t be fixed, but that’s okay too. You learn from taking it apart, and for me, knowing that a thing was unfixable – in my case, a toaster that only heated one of its two slots – put me at ease with discarding it.

Last week, AHA Repairsday helped me fix a classic keyboard, rescuing a valuable object from the landfill and giving it a second life.

Categories
Local reporting Parenting ruminations

Let’s plan now for COVID-resilient school next year

In July I predicted that there would be no in-person instruction for Ann Arbor Public Schools this entire school year. Unfortunately, that prediction is looking accurate. Let’s start planning for September 2021.

The discussion among the district, board, and parents seems focused on reopening this year. At what level of disease activity, and which safety precautions, would be enough for kids to begin going to school? At least, that seemed to be the discussion a month ago, when disease levels were lower and other districts in SE Michigan (including some in Washtenaw County, like Saline and Dexter) were sending kids to school.

Especially with the current COVID surge now shutting down those other districts, it seems likely that reopening this year is not in the cards for Ann Arbor Public Schools. Given that, I fear we’re wasting precious time and energy debating possibilities and metrics for reopening this year. It echoes what happened this summer, when time spent considering possibilities for in-person instruction would have been better used on improving systems for remote instruction.