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.

Two Poems


Ideally I could present these side by side and the reader could jump between freely. I don't think I can get that to work for enough browsers and scenarios to suit me, so one after the other.

Daily I fall in love with waitresses


by Elliot Fried (1991)

Daily I fall in love with waitresses
with their white bouncing name tags
KATHY MARGIE HONEY SUE
and white rubber shoes.
I love how they bend over tables
pouring coffee.
Their perky breasts hover above potatoes
like jets coming in to LAX
hang above the suburbs—
shards of broken stars.
I feel their fingers
roughened by cube steaks softened with grease
slide over me.
Their hands and lean long bodies
keep moving so...
fumbling and clattering so harmoniously
that I am left overwhelmed, quivering.
Daily I fall in love with waitresses
with their cream-cheese cool.
They tell secrets in the kitchen
and I want them.
I know them.
They press buttons creases burgers buns—
their legs are menu smooth.

They have boyfriends or husbands or children
or all.
They are french dressing worldly—
they know how ice cubes clink.
Their chipped teeth form chipped beef
and muffin syllabics.
Daily I fall in love with waitresses.
They are Thousand Island dreams
but they never stand still long enough
as they serve serve serve

And for the next poem...

Daily I fall in love with mechanics


by Susan Thurston

Daily I fall in love with mechanics
with their smudged coveralls and names embroidered
over where their hearts just might be
PETE STEWART RAY CHUCK BUTCH
and thick soled boots.
I love how they jack up my car
and press the pneumatic drill
to my tires and with hip
press lean into the whir of liberation
nuts and bolts falling
released from so much spinning
and holding everything tight in place.
I feel their hands
roughened by spark plugs and washer fluid
yet sweetened by overflowing oil pans
slide over me.
Their arms and shoulders
remind me of deep river valleys
and other places where we could tumble
after setting the parking brake...
fumbling and clutching so melodiously
I am left grateful for their engine knowledge.
Daily I fall in love with mechanics
with their grease smudged bad boy grins
and come hither wide opening garage doors.
They tell secrets in the pit
and I want them.
I know them.
They slip belts back into place
their legs diesel dark

They have lovers or spouses or children
or all.
They are strut bearing reliable—
they know how timing belts twist.
Their toothpick punctuated grins
reassure you they are giving you the best
deal in town and they would not let you drive
without checking all your fluid levels.
Daily I fall in love with mechanics.
They are better than Free Air
want my vehicle to be safe and sound
but they never travel far enough
before pulling the next car into the station.

The first poem is evocative enough, conjuring images of places and times near enough in my memory, but also a world away. And then the second poem gently, but firmly, rips the image apart replacing the teasing sexual hopes of the first with practical greasy rags and clean oil filters.

I'm not much for reading poetry, but Mechanics has such charm. Yet, to me at least, the charm requires the original for those diesel dark legs to really shine, like some phoenix chick that cannot fully be appreciated without the ashen nest.

Micro Press


I saw someone else's teeny press project and was inspired. The design is interesting. Brian Cook's is a simple fold down frame and matching rubber stamps. Pluses: easy to get good registration, simple design and construction. But I can see room for improvement. Minuses: fixed size/shape block, fixed size shape paper, hand-pressed rubber stamps are hard to evenly press.

Modeled after a torilla press, I can get a lot of evenly distributed pressure. I made this using only materials I had laying around. There is a scrap of plywood for the base, and smaller scraps to hold the platen. Pine 2x2 for the press part, with 1/4" bolts screwed up from the underside. The main hinge on the lever is a bit of steel rod, the smaller plunger hinge is made from a large nail.

The platen ("flat plate of a printing press that presses the paper against the type") is some thick plastic I cut into 5" squares. The plastic came from an old combination scanner/printer. It seems to be optical polycarbonate with a fine grid printed on it. Very strong, very clear, very hard, very flat. Somewhat tricky to work with. Tools can melt it and then have the molten plastic move to a cooler spot and where the plastic suddenly hardens again. It seized up a drillbit for me, for example.

Very flat and hard makes a great platen.

I have two bolts there for alignment, not support. The stack here is

  1. plywood base
  2. plastic layer (bolts screwed into melted in nuts)
  3. block and frame for holding print block, loose fit over bolts
  4. paper, alignment to be done with masking tape on plastic
  5. second plastic layer, loose fit over bolts

I have a lot of small chisels for lino work. None are great, but I'm not a great artist either. I decided on a simple rendition of the press itself for the first print (above). There's something satisfying in linoleum carving I find. Like Brian Cook's press, this is a two inch square. Unlike his, my press can accomodate other (small) sizes and shapes.

Pretty successful. The letters didn't come out as clearly as I'd like. My smallest chisels don't seem sharp or fine enough to do lines that small.

Here's an example of moving away from the two inch square, here with 45mm circular blocks.

I have two multipacks of these plastic linoleum substitute printing discs, purchased on a whim some years ago. The idea behind them is to make stamps with a special handle. I don't have the handle. These are not satisfying to carve. The print surface is smooth and firm, then it gets softer in the middle, with a rough backside coated with adhesive. The material is harder to cut than real lino. The adhesive to attach (it to the handle) is strong enough to be annoying but not strong enough to be effective.

I carved a border first (the green) then a second disc with an image. I didn't print the border onto the second, but did attempt to measure how much space I needed. It seems like I should use a more accurate system.

Overall, I'd say the press is pretty effective, and meets the goals I had in mind when I started. After using it I find that it is very easy to get a nice even pressing of the block into the paper, paper alignment (registration) works pretty well, and making new frames is pretty easy. It does have the drawback that it's somewhat slow and cumbersome to ink-up and swap paper. I hadn't given that enough thought during the design. Still, it works and cost me nothing.

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.