Web Services Versus Mac Server

Original Motivations

It seems like one of my favorite types of procrastination is saving small recurring amounts of money. Despite the fact that a single dinner out costs more than any one of the web services I pay for, I still enjoy spending hours at night trying to save 7 dollars a month. To that effect, I've moved my VPS from Linode to Prgmr to Digital Ocean chasing 3 to 4 dollars of monthly savings and spending hours in the process migrating servers. I've done the same with my online backup setups, going from Backblaze to Arq over Amazon S3 and back again. But then I realized that there is only but so much optimization in reducing spending on web services one at a time, and also realized that sometimes solving 4 problems is easier than solving one.


My list of services most likely looks pretty standard:

Cost  Services          Use               Server Replacement
----  --------          ---               ------------------
5     Digital Ocean     VPS               I now ssh into my iMac
5     BackBlaze         offsite backup    BTSync to mirror
1.7   iTunes Match      music             Plex from iMac

I spent 800 dollars for a 2011 iMac. This machine is actually slightly faster as per geekbench than my 2013 13" macbook pro. So it will take 3 years to pay off the iMac from savings in services. But, I ended up selling my 27 inch monitor back to my coworking space for 300 dollars, which means I will be able to pay off the iMac in 22 months instead.

If I tried slightly harder, I'm sure I could find replacement for Hulu Plus and instapaper speeding up the process even more, but with a 22 month pay off, in addition to other benefits, I'm more than satisfied.

Other Benefits

My desk is now much much cleaner.

I don't have to take a bag to work. This is actually bigger than I thought. The feeling of walking to work untethered is pretty amazing after an entire life of backpacks and messenger bags.

Redundancy is a great benefit. I have a dead pixel on my macbook pro, and it's not going to be an issue even if it needs to be sent away for a week since I've got an ipad and iMac to hold me over.

Depreciation Path

In addition to the one to two years of this machine being my main work machine, I've already thought out other areas it could be useful. When it's too slow for Photoshop, I could put this computer in my bedroom and have it be my night time media center. Just put [Plex][plex] into full screen mode and call it a day. After the processor is so slow it can't run whatever beyond 4k idiocy we're watching in the future, I can turn the machine on in Target Display Mode and run it as an external monitor.

Starting a Coworking Space Doesn't Have to Be Hard

Getting the people

I got a grant from a local non-profit that allowed me to open a co-working space for one month. This grant included enough for rent, and that was about it. After one month, I had 12 people signed up and ready to go. After that landlord raised the rent by 50 percent, and after waiting to find a new space, I had 6 members left (it took 4 months to find a new home). This step isn't that necessary, if you have people, get a space, if you don't have people, don't get a space. I started with only 6 people. If you built it, more will come.

Setting up the Space

Initial Costs


We were the first tenants in a space, 5139 Penn Ave., in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We're on the same block as an art community space, a co-operative music venue, and an awesome pizza shop. The space isn't the prettiest, but we've got 2000 square feet for about 1000 a month in rent, and the building is so well made that we're paying less for heat than my one bedroom apartment.

  • 1800 dollars for first and last months rent
  • 500 for 10 Ikea Vika Amon Tables and legs
  • 500 for 10 Ikea Jules Swivle Chairs
  • 100 for several tables and chairs I scraped from craigslist
  • 0 for donated coffee grinder and chemex, utensils, dorm sized frig
  • 24 for 3 makeshift whiteboards (go to home depot and by 8'x4' shower stall walls)
  • 15 for whiteboard markers
  • 60 for cloth hand towels (we have the cleaning girl wash and fold each week)
  • 600 for gas and electric deposits. This was an unexpected cost, apparently even if residents don't have to leave deposits, businesses do. These were paid gradually over the first year.

After 1 Year

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.35.43 PM

Within the first year we paid ourselves back the complete initial investment.

Current "Programming"

Pittsburgh Tool Lending Library---Show 'n' Tell at CatapultPGH

Each month we have 4 speakers who are doing cool projects around town, from electronic instrument making, to tool lending libraries.

Micro Loans
We have partneredairs and tables as we kept filling seats

Re-occuring Costs

  • 900 for rent
  • 100 for internet
  • 100 for cleaning lady
  • 200 for electric
  • 100 for gas
  • 65 for coffee subscription
  • 35 for water subscription

1500 Total

Membership doesn't have to be hard either.

Right now we use freshbooks to send out monthly re-occuring invoices. All expenses are handled with freshbooks as well. Since we don't set hard limits on days in the office, we don't need any way to track or reserve. If we start getting too many part-timers, we'll just buy more tables.

The Upcoming Year

I personally would consider the first year of Catapult a success. My goal was to break even and pay myself back, and I did that. In addition, there are a million intangible benefits such as waking up each morning and getting to work in an awesome community of motivated people, being able to trade/barter services, learning Clojure, getting instant design critiques and instant design/code help, and offering just as much as I'm getting.

Moving forward, I don't really know where this is going to go. Honestly, I feel like I'm not in control of it either. I always dream of getting a new building and shooting out an email to Catapult saying something like "hey guys, got this sweet new building for us, we're moving two blocks down in the next 3 months" and then getting a unanimous response "that's cool, we'll stay here". That would never happen, but the nagging image just reminds me that I'm not completely in control of where this group goes. We're a community, and although I can foster and cultivate, I cannot really direct. I'm just one lever on the machine. I am thinking of moving in with an artist friend and her cooperative of artists, thinking of rolling my own design work into the Catapult umbrella and turning this thing into a super ad-hock full stack design shop, but those are just dreams. We'll see what the next year brings.

Pittsburgh Coffee Shop Rankings

This was a post a made on nevertellmetheodds.org:

Voluto was better before commonplace bought it. they had 49th parallels which were just better beans, even if they didn't do the best job with them. I theorize that commonplace is not that good because everyone smokes and can't taste food anyway. As far as rankings, here it is:


1. Marty's
Marty's Market has coava coffee right now. Coava is out of portland, they have direct relationships with farms, they roast some coffee especially for espresso, and they only do single origin. their beans are hit or miss, but when they nail it, it's amazing. Go when Kira is working, tell her Elliott sent you, ask for an espresso and she will actually care about you.

2. 21st Street
21st street uses inteligentsia. I feel like they used to be the best, but lately I feel like I'm not in love with the way espresso turns out. Big Dog in the south side and a few other places also use their beans, but if only buy beans in the other shops, the staff isn't nearly as knowledgeable as at 21 but I'll get to that later.

3. Espresso a Mano
Espresso a Mano uses ritual. These guys are out of LA or SF I can't remember. The shop out there seemed full of dbs, but their beans are pretty good. These beans are second teir compared to Coava and Intelli, but they are priced accordingly and I think a good value. Actually a really good value if you can't afford the really good stuff.

4. Tazz
Tazz uses Counter Culture. As you can see they are fourth on my list, but honestly get an espresso from Tazz and you won't be that sad. They do a damn good job with what they have.

5. Common Place
There might be someone who roasts who is better, but I don't know. They are everywhere you are, kelly's, Common Place S.H. Voluto, Geet or whatever it's called, probably in a bunch of restaurants. These are probably the best local beans you can get. Better than 19 or Zeek or any other. They are the best local, but still they are fifth.

n. La Prima
La Prima (keep in mind this is bean quality), Crazy Mocha, Starbucks, Coffee Tree, etc. I want Coffee Tree to be good. The guys that own that place seem to care about coffee a lot, but for some reason it doesn't trickle down through the staff and into my cup.

Staff Knowledge and Skill

1. 21st Street
If you want to learn about coffee go here. They are the best, and if you go to another shop (Espresso a Mano, Marty's) cough cough, they might be trained by someone at 21. Ask a question here and get a legit answer.

2. Marty's
3. Commonplace
n. here and below I think it's a wash

Pour over

1. 21
Pour overs don't just take skill, they take taste buds. I would say more so than espresso. Marty's I think just doesn't have the bandwidth for pour overs, that's cool, it will be a long time before they match up with 21st.

Honestly, if you want a pour over just go to 21.


1. 21 (anytime) and Marty's (when Kira's working)
I say this because 21st street is consistent as all hell. But even a blind squirrel can find a nut and in the case of marty's, if you put great beans together with good equipment and someone who gives a damn you can't go too far astray. I've been going to 21 for years and rarely have I had a bad shot. I've been going to Marty's since they opened and maybe their average shot isn't as good as 21, there have been a few that got me genuinely excited about espresso again. Maybe it's just that 21/intelli has such a signature flavor profile, maybe it's just that it's new, but damn good espresso.

Seriously. They don't have a Syneso, they don't have amazing beans, but just go get one.

n. It's all a wash below these three spots
I will say that Big Dog is particularly bad. They espresso are more like old school longo or whatever those italians used to call them.

So in summation:

I buy Coava beans, get espressos at 21 and Marty's and pour overs at 21.

I'm sure I've pissed off tons of people and I'm sure I've left out places like lillies or cat and dog or that convenience store that has 50 cent caps on butler. If I left out any place, it's probably because they're dirt. But just because I think it's dirt doesn't mean it is, and I never said there was anything wrong with dirt.

I Always Give Cyclists the Same Advice

There's a new law in PA to increase the safety of biking in cities. Cars can now cross the double yellow when passing bicycles and should always leave a 4 foot cushion between them and bicycles.

The differential in speed is the biggest safety challenge with motor vehicles and bicycles sharing our state's roadways

I've been a bike messenger, a commuter, and a general two wheeled fool in several cities for the last decade, and when people ask me for advice when biking in the city, I always give the same advice: Ride Faster.

via Daily Local

Catapult PGH Coworking Lease Agreement

This Catapult PGH Lease Agreement is made between Catapult PGH (also known as "The Organization Taking the Fall if Anything Happens") and ______________ (hereinafter "The Person in need of Space"), together referred to as the "Parties".

Whereas Catapult PGH possess a bit of space and am choosing to share it with you, The Person in Need of Space, with the mutual understanding that we are both cool and that you will not be a jerk.

Manners of being a jerk include, but are not limited to:

  • Using more than your fair share of amenities (electric, water, bandwidth, etc).
  • Allowing your noise/stuff/smell/detritus to encroach on common spaces, or the space of others.
  • Anything that would lead to permanent damage of the premises.

The Parties agree that the Person in Need of Space shall lease from Catapult PGH in the premises located at 5139 Penn Ave. PGH PA 15224 on the following terms:

Term. The Term of this Agreement shall continue as long as the Parties are cool with it.

Rent. The Person in Need of Space will pay a total of $________ per month. Rent will be payable on the first day of each month directly to The Organization Taking the Fall if Anything Happens.

Breach. This agreement has absolutely no legal binding. However, upon breach or violation of the agreement, I will feel free to do any of the following:

  • Eat anything you left behind, even if it is non-edible.
  • Talk about what a jerk you are on whatever current social network is most important to you.
  • Write a haiku about your mom.

Termination. Termination of this agreement can be executed by either party, but don't be a jerk, give some notice.

You are acknowledging and agreeing to this document by reading it. If you find any part of this agreement uncomfortable or confusing, don't sweat it. If you can follow the spirit of the document, and not be a jerk, I'm sure we'll get along fine.

Rand's work with NDAs inspired this document, so I felt I should make sure he gets credit. ©