QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded
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We Work?


In September 2017 I was hired by a company that used Wework for office space. On the day I started, they had a tiny glass fishbowl meant to hold three people, and four people there. By October we had moved to a larger space on a different floor, meant for five people. It was a much nicer spot, with two openenable windows. (To the outside. Not just the glass walls with sliding doors on the other spot.)

The building was (is) on 2nd St in San Francisco's Soma (South of Market) neighborhood. An older six story building with a single elevator, wood stairs in the single internal staircase, and an exterior fire escape reachable through the sash window in one of the offices. I don't know if the people in that office were required to not lock their door, it is something I thought about in my time there.

I don't recall exactly when, but somewhere around December 2017 to February 2018 that company shut the Wework office down and I was expected to work from home. For about a month before then, I was usually the only person in the office. The San Francisco branch manager, Andrew, had been laid off in early December 2017, leaving just three employees in SF. And absent the manager insisting otherwise, the other two preferred to work from home.

On day one with that company, I had showed up at the Wework office and as part of signing in to meet Andrew, I had to provide an email address. I used my resume email address, since I didn't yet know what my new work address would be. Wework added that address to their building mailing list, and I got weekly announcements about things happening in the building. Emails with a text/plain part that was wildly different from the text/html part.

Those weekly newsletters stopped, without my intervention, when the company stopped the Wework lease. Until today. Some circa eighteen to twenty months later, I got one this morning. Still wildly different plain text and html parts, but also this time, a crazy From line. This from header is an address for a NYC (Hudson Yards) Wework office. Not exactly close to San Francisco.

From: WeWork Community team at 368 9th Ave <WE-US-58829@wework.com>

text/plain part:

What's happening at WeWork 156 2nd St this week?

(then three placeholder events all dated "June 28" with no year, eg

Exclusive 1 Title

Sunday, June 28 | 3:00 pm - 5:00pm | 19A

Enter the descriptive text for the exclusive item here. Please try to keep all descriptions 3 lines or shorter. If you don't need to include a link, you can delete the link below, but be careful, once deleted you can't undo it.

)

text/html part:

What's happening at WeWork 156 2nd St this week?

(then one event on August 13th and one on June 28th, both with actual details, but nothing happening in the week of August 3rd to 9th, 2020.)

I used the "list unsubscribe" link in the message headers (and got a confirmation of unsubscription just using lynx; always nice to see that websites work in text browsers).

But it prompted me to think about this company that had such a spectacular failure to IPO last year. An at-the-time description: 2019/9/23 Wework mess explained.

About a month after that story, Wework laid off 2,400 employees of 12,500 (according to SEC filings in June 2019). The news broke on Thanksgiving day: 2019/11/21 Wework lays off 2400.

Searching Reuters today, the most recent news story about Wework is almost a month old: Wework expects positive cash flow in 2021.

WeWork Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure said the office-sharing company was on course to have positive cash flow in 2021, a year earlier than a target the company set in February, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

Claure, in an interview with the newspaper, said WeWork has seen strong demand for its office spaces since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

The SoftBank-controlled company has also reduced its workforce by more than 8,000 people, renegotiated leases and sold off assets to reduce its cash burn and shed costs, FT said.

Eight thousand people is 64% of 12,500, assuming the lay-off count is from height of employment, and not some more recent smaller number. I'm a bit surprised that even with those third paragraph changes Wework still has hope. I'm also a bit surprised by the "strong demand" mentioned. In the face of massive work-from-home pushes, people want to work in glass cells?

As of today, there's vacancy for five people on the sixth floor of 156 2nd St, judging by the floor plan I think it's the same one I was in (looking at room 611; I don't remember the office numbers, just the floors). They want $5,250 a month for that. And there is a third floor vacancy for three people, for $2,710. It's not the one I was in, but adjacent.

Overall, I'm not sure 156 2nd St is showing "strong demand" based on the available units I can find. Maybe SF is not representative of that demand?

I really thought they'd be a goner when "quarantine" hit. Whatever the rental demand, whoever is doing their email newsletters seems surplus to requirements.

Podcasts


This is just one of those things I can't get into. I continually find that people want to have me listen to podcasts. I see blogs like Popehat essentially die with a podcast replacement, and people I read on Usenet and elsewhere say "listen to this podcast to find out about X or Y".

Such entreaties to move from reading to listening do not sit well with me. I don't mind listening to the radio while in the car or in my shed workshop. And sometimes what I'm listening to is a podcast on the radio, such as the excellent 99 Percent Invisible which I used to hear on KALW sometimes during driving-kids-to-school rides (but not in a long time now).

But listening to stuff when it is convenient and stopping what I am reading to go listen to stuff are two vastly different things. And it is pretty much never convenient to go download something and listen to it. I make an effort a couple of times a week to download and view videos I see people reference, but it is an effort and most youtube links will just get a glance at the title of the video, not a view.

My wife has listened to a few podcasts, some of them while I'm around, but she's not a big consumer of the format. I listened to an episode of Serial season one with her while we worked together in the kitchen. She finished the season, I didn't, she never continued with the later seasons.

It doesn't help that a lot of podcasts, like a lot of the content on youtube, seems to take a small amount of content and stretch it out over a long period of time. This is just the opposite of how I find most radio to be: longer stories tightly edited to fit in a shorter period of time. I suppose the appeal to some people is the more conversational nature of the content, but a conversation I can't participate in is not a strong draw for me.

With the written word, I can easily read slower or faster to pay closer attention to complicated bits or skim over filler. I can easily stop and reseach something mentioned to get more backstory or more details. In audio (or video) that is a lot more difficult. No exact spellings of things, for starters.

If something is only available in podcast form, it's basically content that will never, ever reach me. And no matter how much people say "you should listen to" I'm saddened by the choice of format.

So, Why Blosxom?


Although it was moderately popular when new, calling Blosxom a dead blog tool now is fairly accurate. No one is using it for new sites and many former power users — people dedicated and involved enough to write plugins &mhash; have abandoned the platform. So it probably bears answering "Why do I still want it?"

Here are some of the things Blosxom has going against it:

  1. No active development to lean on for community improvements.
  2. Somewhat simplistic hook model for plugins.
  3. Very rudimentary interpolation engine.
  4. Very easy to accidentally change posting time on posts.
  5. Without plugins, lacks many features considered standard now:
    • Comments
    • Post composer
    • Search
    • Search engine tools like sitemap support
    • Cookies for analytics, user preferences, and/or user logins

The main selling points Rael Dornfest had for Blosxom, as I remember it, where:

  1. Edit posts without a post composer.
  2. Import and export of posts is trivial since they are all just individual text files.
  3. Small code base with easy install on your own server.
  4. Simple to create plugins.

Most of those are not things I think people appreciate. GUI composers are very common these days, some more WYSIWYG then others, but having buttons for bolding, dialogs for links, etc, seems to be a thing people want. And maintaining code, installing things on an Internet server, that seems to to be things people don't want. You can get started in Tumblr in seconds after getting an email address and an Internet connection. Finding somewhere to install a Perl script, configure it to work with a web server, and then "how do you add images?" is too much.

So you've got deliberate features people don't care about, and drawbacks people will quickly notice. Blosxom is a hard sell these days.

But for me, it is what I have always done. My first forays into web page construction were done composed in vi, served by NCSA HTTPd, and viewed in Mosaic on university computers. From there, moved to a Unix shell account on an ISP by 1996. I had my own personal colocated server serving content on my own personal domain name by 1997, and was saturating a T1 at times by 1998. All of that original work was 100% my HTML and CGI coding. I wrote a CGI libary in 1999 that I still use for some personal projects.

For work, I've used blogging tools like Moveable Type and Wordpress. I've used content management systems like Plone and Drupal. I've stored content in Berkeley DB files, MySQL, and Postgres. I've worked with content accelerators like Varnish, Fastly (which is basically Varnish managed by someone else), and Akamai. I understand how and why to scale horizontally or vertically in Internet deployments.

I like coming back to the simplicity of knowing how every bit of the page gets transmitted from the first line of the HTTP request to the closing <BODY> tag in the HTML. That's what I get out of Blosxom. It is tiny and knowable. I have to do more work to enable things, but I know what that work is or how to find out. Until I did it for the sitemap tool last week, I had never actually built a sitemap, only parsed them for site scraping. It wasn't a hard task from deciding to do it and having it completed, even if it was a task that wouldn't be necessary with other tools..

Last month, May 2020, qaz.wtf moved 21,650,398,268 bytes in web content, that's without headers, an average of 8083 bytes per second all month long. Most of that (68.9%) was from the Unicode Toys which are configured to send compressed-on-the-fly 100% text html generated by CGI scripts I've 100% written. Second biggest top level item was /favicon.ico, sadly a binary file with a crappy name because Microsoft invented that concept. Third this blog (including images and CSS). If I were using Wordpress, I doubt the pages would be as small, and if I were using Medium the Javascript alone per page would be more than my blog HTML content put together.

I'm happy controlling it all and knowing where my byte budget goes.

Iconic Identity


Discourse is software for Internet forums (or fora if you prefer). I joined the instance for discussing Discourse itself, meta.discourse.org very shortly after it first opened up. Up until then, I had never seen a forum I really wanted to participate in. The software just sucked.

(I still feel that way, and am frustrated when I feel forced to use say phpbb. That is the forum for say, Andor's Trail, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Phpbb is particularly annoying in that there is apparently a default block on using the search function unless you become a member. Not just advanced search mind you, any search. It feels stingy. And the UI that encourages long signatures on every post means that an external search will have more chaff to hunt through to find the wheat.)

So anyway, I'm a fan of Discourse as forum software, and have followed Meta for Discourse in various degrees of focused or unfocused for years. I'm back into a bit more focusing on it now because of a project I'm working on. If you have paid any attention to it, which you might not have, you know that it is basically the baby of Jeff "Coding Horror" Atwood.

He explains his choice of nym here: On the Meaning of "Coding Horror", a blog post from a bit over a decade ago. He uses the icon from that book as his user icon anywhere that he uses that username.

About two weeks ago someone at $WORK stole that hair-up-in-the-air face for his Slack icon. The new use of the icon has been jarring, to say the least. I see the face and I think of Jeff Atwood and then why is he here, this isn't Discourse and then see the name doesn't match. It's almost surprising how much that face is Jeff "Coding Horror" Atwood to me. It's not just a random icon, it's his icon.

I suppose that's what comes of using the same picture so consistently. I tried that for a while, with a photo of a toy car positioned on top of a nickel coin (for scale), but eventually decided to stop and use different icons in different contexts.

For one thing, I took that photo on an ancient camera that produced 640x480 photos and no longer have the toy to rephotograph it. That's starting to bump into smaller than recomended file sizes for personal icons on some sites now. 500x500 for example.

For another, there are contexts in which an icon that looks like me, even if it isn't a photo of me, are much more useful. For example the $WORK Slack. I use a photo of a painting of someone who looks vaguely like me, stocky with a long red beard. It's as accurate as some of the sketches I've seen people use.

And lastly, I've come to the conclusion that by using different user names and iconography, I can further my goal of making it more difficult for data miners to match my accounts across the Internet. (Not that I expect it to work perfectly, but I don't want to make it easy either.)