Light snow on the run

This morning I participated in an annual donut run in south Minneapolis. It’s a simple fun run where people head out for various distances, marked by stops at local bakeries and donut shops. I chose the 5 mile route which included stops at two different bakeries for a donut, along the way.

I also managed to capture a really neat shot when I was crossing over one of the creeks. A light snow had started to fall, and you couldn’t see far into the distance. I love the contrast of the gnarled tree branches with the snowy sky and the creek below. It made for a beautiful morning run.

Pokemon Sun/Moon first impressions

I’ve been playing Pokemon Moon since it was released a few weeks ago. I had only really started playing Pokemon this year when I joined my son in playing through some of the games. I’ve managed to make it up through Generation 4 before this latest release. My youngest has been playing it for years, so he’s my go-to person for knowledge of type weaknesses when I’m feeling too lazy to look it up online.

Sun/Moon is the latest in the franchise and at the core, it’s the same old Pokemon game you’re used to. You build your team of Pokemon and battle your way through various challenges and travels. The basic formula hasn’t changed much, it’s still just a standard RPG style battle system. They’ve added in Z-moves as a big heavy hitting feature, but it’s similar to mega evolutions from the past.

The setting is a Hawaiian style island that doesn’t really hide its origins much. People say “Alola” instead of “Aloha”, but otherwise, it’s just Hawaii. This means that there are a bunch of new creatures to find, and catch, some of which are re-skins of previous Pokemon. The major difference in this version is the addition of “trials” instead of gyms. The trials serve the same purpose as the gyms, progressing you through a series of battles and puzzles, but in my opinion I found the trials I’ve done to be pretty simple and not nearly as challenging. I’m not really complaining, but it’s a different experience for sure.

The other big change that I’m enjoying so far is that you no longer need to give your Pokemon special moves to float on the ocean or fly to other cities. You can simply call a special Pokemon to your side at any time to accomplish this. That’s a huge impact since you no longer need to balance out your team’s moves for battle, with their abilities to progress the story. I rather enjoy not having to think about that any more.

Overall, I’m having a great time with Moon and I am looking forward to finishing it and seeing the ending. The graphics are really nice, and gameplay is smooth. Time to go catch em all!

Net Neutrality under attack

Throughout my technology career, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Open Source community. I was a big proponent of Linux in its early days, and even introduced multiple organizations to using it as a primary operating system for application and database servers. Therefore, things like open standards and net neutrality mean something to me.

For those unfamiliar with net neutrality, it is basically the concept that internet providers cannot give special advantage to one service over another, in the interest of promoting an open and free (as in freedom) internet. So for example, Comcast cannot give preferential treatment (such as faster bandwidth) to Netflix over Hulu just because Netflix pays them extra money. The idea of an open internet is that the pipes are free for any provider to use.

Some people have criticized T-Mobile for many of its promotional services, offering free music and video streaming from selected providers. However, I was willing to give them a bit of a pass because they don’t actually own any of the services that they’re streaming for free. They’re perfectly fine with getting more and more services on board because they’re using the free data as a way to attract people to their overall internet pipe, not one service over another.

This past week however, AT&T announced that DirectTV Now would be granted free access for any of their subscribers. Here’s the problem though, DirectTV is owned by AT&T, which means that by giving an advantage to DirectTV they are directly benefiting their own pocketbooks. This is what people have feared when it came to Net Neutrality and I can only hope that the government steps in and stops this from happening, although with a Trump administration I am doubtful.

An open internet is what made the internet what it is today. The freedom of anyone to participate in a great online community is what makes the internet something that we all can, and should, value for the future. The internet is a place of knowledge, both useful and inane, but it is that way because it is free and open. If you value an open internet, support net neutrality with your elected representatives and keep big money out.

Some Yo-Yo Ma neo-folk

Yesterday my wife happened across a video of Yo-Yo Ma with Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile. I love these types of collaborations and this one was put together brilliantly. It turned out that the video was from a recording session in 2011 for an album called the Goat Rodeo Sessions. Needless to day I’ve added it to my Google Play library.

I love these neo-folk groups that give a new life to classic instrumentation arrangements and sounds. Groups like Trampled by Turtles and Greensky Bluegrass are some of my favorite bands to listen to. However, on the quieter end of the spectrum albums like Goat Rodeo Sessions and Sarah Jaroz are other examples of bringing new life to traditional Americana music.

I’ve embeded the video so you can enjoy this as well.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Monday night I sat down at my computer one last time before bed to check in on things, and noticed a tweet from Wil Wheaton. He stated that he was starting up a twitch stream and doing a Choose Your Own Adventure book live. I clicked into the stream as it was starting and got to be a part of the audience as he read through the story, giving us chances to vote on the choices from the book. It was a great time and absolutely hilarious when most of us chose the wrong choice and ended the story earlier than we expected. We backtracked a step and got to a much more satisfying ending.

It reminded me about how much fun these books were as a kids. I would go to the library and check out 2-3 of them at a time to read and enjoy. I loved picking the various options and seeing how bad an ending I could get sometimes. It was a great memory as a kid, and these books really unlocked my imagination as I put myself into the story and made it my own.

Monday night was a lot of fun, walking down memory lane and re-living some of the ways that we found to interact with a story before video games really made that possible.

Reddit Secret Santa

I came late to the party with reddit. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I even made an account and started following subs. This year I decided to join in with the Secret Santa tradition that reddit does every year. Last night I filled out my profile, and Tuesday I find out who I’m sending a gift to.

I’m actually a bit excited at the idea of shopping for a total stranger, based solely on what they’ve shared in their profile. I try to always be a creative gift giver, thinking about the person I’m giving to when I pick something out. My wife will attest that often I’m getting her something cheesy and funny, or meaningful and homemade. I feel like the things I truly want I can just purchase for myself, as many people can. It’s in the act of thinking about another person that I can be creative in my gift giving.

Wish me luck as I try to come up with something cool!

End of the Cold War

I grew up as a child of the 80’s, and apart from big hair, REM, The Cure, and leg warmers, the 1980s were also marked as a time of fear about the Cold War. The Cold War was unlike any other conflict in history as the U.S.S.R. and the United States engaged in a global stalemate with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over all of our heads. As a child this was actually a very frightening time to live. I think many would ponder if the weird rebellious nature of 80’s culture was a reaction of youth living with this underlying fear in their lives.

Unlike a ground war such as Vietnam, there were no daily body counts in the nightly news, or stories of advancement through enemy lines. Instead there were reports of small conflicts in backwater areas of the world, and news headlines about the latest in Star Wars Defense Systems to keep us safe. Every child became familiar with the term “Mutually Assured Destruction”, which both terrified us, and kept us assuaged that no one would ever launch a first strike, because it would mean the end of life on earth.

The world has changed, and the Cold War appeared to end with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s. However, there was one last holdout of the era of Cold War politics right in our backyard: Cuba. This weekend Fidel Castro passed away, and the end of the Cold War era truly passed into history. Despite many years of reform and softening relations between the U.S. and Cuba, it really wasn’t until Castro’s passing this weekend that it drove home the point to me that it really was truly, and finally over.

That’s not to say that we don’t face threats today. Extremist terrorism is the new global threat, and our children are growing up with a fear that is different that mine, but still fear. Instead of looking to the sky to see if missiles are going to rain down on you, our kids are looking at the people around them in a crowd and wondering if they are a terrorist who wants to do them harm. My hope is that when my kids are my age, that we have moved beyond this scary time and that they can also ‘look back’ at the fear of their youth and feel confident that it has passed.

For now I will feel a final sense of peace that the fear of my youth is no more, and look to helping make the world a better place for my children, so that perhaps future generations can grow up without a sense of fear.

No shave November

Most years I go along with the tradition of not shaving in November. I don’t do it for any charity or anything like that, but mostly just to give my head a rest. It’s always interesting to see how much hair I don’t have on my head by the end of the month, as my receding hairline seems to get thinner every year. It’s also odd needing to use shampoo during this month, since my hair is just long enough to need it. For a brief time every year my head smells like coconut.

Next week it comes to an end however. I’m considering trying some of those dedicated head razors. I’ve been nicking myself quite a bit lately, and I’d rather avoid spilling any more blood on the back of my head. It’s may sound odd, but there are a large segment of men who would happily undergo a treatment that removes our hair permanently, as opposed to all these baldness treatments that are going around. I’m sure whatever they’d come up with it wouldn’t be the healthiest option though…

Tettegouche State Park

The second place that my wife and I hiked over the weekend was at Tettegouche State Park. I hadn’t been to Tettegouche in a LONG time. I remember in High School taking a hike up the Baptism River to High Falls with some friends, but it had been ages since I had been there.

This weekend I got to see the falls again, and this time I had my good camera with me. I’ve enclosed a sample below, but since I don’t want to use up all my space on WordPress, please check out this link to my Flickr album for the full set: https://flic.kr/s/aHskHdV6AF

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Creating space

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things that I enjoy doing. This past weekend when I put on a fatass race at the local park it really drove home the point that I passionately love creating a space for people to have meaningful experiences in. After the race, as we drove up north, I couldn’t contain how fulfilled I felt. I loved being able to create something that gave people a memory that they will carry with them in their lives. Not because I want to be famous or praised for doing something great (though kudos are greatly appreciated), but because I really want to give people something to remember.

I’ve always known this about myself to some degree, but my ‘life contemplations’ this year have really started to make it all come together in my head. In many ways I think that this passion of mine is why I wanted to become a pastor when I was younger. I love the idea of creating a space and time where people can experience something that is meaningful to them. It’s why I was so heavily drawn into the liturgical practices with their structure and depth. Many, many years ago when I was in a small group Bible study, I would make up little liturgy sheets for us to do at the end of the study time with prayers and litanies. I loved giving people those memorable moments.

It’s also probably why at various times in my life I’ve thought about how neat it would be to create a coffee shop or brewery for people to gather in. I know first hand how meaningful time in places like that have been to me, giving space to commune with other people, or write and contemplate things on my own. I always feel grateful to those who create those spaces for me, and want to find ways to pay it forward.

The Wednesday night Beer and Bikes group that I participate with is another example where I love to gather with others and get some exercise and enjoy a time and place for engagement with others. It’s also why I love gathering for group runs on the weekend. Even if I don’t run with someone the whole time, it’s the idea that we’re all out there on the trails together, experiencing a shared memory of space and time.

Putting on the fatass this weekend really helped open my eyes to how important this creation of space and memory is to me, not just right now, but throughout my entire life. I’m not sure where I take it next, but it certainly adds a new dynamic to my thoughts about the future.

Cascade River State Park

The first park that we stopped at during our vacation was Cascade River State Park. This park is just south of Grand Marais, and has a beautiful set of waterfalls. We hiked around for an hour or so and I got some truly amazing shots. Gallery below or on Flickr:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskHdUYJK

 

Voyageur Brewing Company

This past weekend the wife and I took a trip to the north shore to get away a bit before the holidays hit. As luck would have it, Minnesota got socked with a snowstorm the day before we were supposed to leave. We kept an eye on the forecast, and snow reports, and decided to give it a go. As it turned out, the driving was fine and the weather ended up being perfect for some winter hiking fun (more on that in future posts). It was also perfect weather for checking out a new brewery we had never been to before.

Voyageur Brewing Company is a cozy little brewery and restaurant in Grand Marais, MN, right off of 61 through town. We checked their website and saw that they opened at 11 on Sunday and arrived right before 11:30. When we got there we found a sign on the door stating that they weren’t opening until 11:30 and we quickly found out why. Since it was only a minute or two before 11:30 I tried the door and we walked inside. What met our eye was a bunch of studio lights and a camera crew filming some type of program. They saw us come in and motioned us to a table off the side and the waitress came over and explained what was going on.

Apparently, Voyageur Brewing was being featured on a pilot for a new show on the Travel Channel about a British gentleman touring America one brewery at a time. She informed us that they were just finishing up and we simply had to keep our voices down for a few minutes while they completed the interviews. I ordered a flight and listened in as they put together the a few different takes with a few different questions about local brewing and ingredients. It was actually really interesting to listen to the conversation as the brewers talked about using Minnesota ingredients and the differences in American beer from British brews.

img_0141Soon the filming was done and returned my attention to the beer. Voyageur has a nice staple of regular beer, and their flight comes with their standard four, plus a choice of two seasonals. Overall, every beer I had was well made. One of my favorites was actually their IPA, despite the fact I’m not a huge IPA fan. Their balance of hops was spot on, and made for a really easy drinking beer. I could easily see drinking that one again.

The only beer I had an issue with was their porter, and not because of the flavor. I actually really enjoyed the brew, but it was more akin to a Schwartzbier/black ale than a porter. It was very easy drinking and smooth, which isn’t what I usually expect from a porter. I wanted a bit more chocolate and toasty overtones. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the beer; I love black ales, and this was a really great one. It just wasn’t a porter in my mind.

After my flight I got a chance to talk with the star of the pilot show and hear about how much he was enjoying getting to see America beyond New York and Vegas. I got to talk with him about our new Major League Soccer team and the differences with American Football. As I was chatting I was also enjoying my final beer of the visit, their Imperial Stout imbued with oak chips. This beer weighs in at over 9%, which puts it outside of my usual comfort zone. However, this beer was so smooth and flavorful, without the harsh alcoholic burn, that I really, really enjoyed it. I was told they only bring it out a few times a year, and I was honored to get to try it on our trip.

Voyageur Brewing is a wonderful place that we loved visiting. The taproom is comfortable and inviting. The walls were adorned with artwork from the local art community, and it even motivated us to visit a local gallery and buy a few prints to bring home. The staff was welcoming and really made us feel at ease despite showing up during an important event for their company.

img_0143I haven’t even talked much about the food which was really great, and worth the visit alone. The cheese curds were actually from a family that runs the cheese curd stand at the county fair where my wife grew up. One of the owners of the brewery was from her hometown. My pork sliders, on brew bread, were really tasty and just the right portion size. My wife enjoyed her Thai tacos, and we left feeling satisfied with both food and beer.

If you’re ever up in Grand Marais, Voyageur Brewing is worth the visit. It’s a great addition to a wonderful northern Minnesota town.

Final Fall Fatass Frolic

Earlier this year I decided I wanted to host a race of some sort on the Elm Creek horse trails. I love those trails, but mostly, when people think of Elm Creek they think of the mountain bike single track. I love the single track, don’t get me wrong, but I always felt the horse trails don’t get enough attention.

I started putting together some plans a couple months ago, and decided to host a simple fat ass run. For those not familiar, a fat ass is just a big group run, usually with potluck treats at the end. I put out the call to our local groups, talked briefly with the park to let them know about the event, and waited for the fateful day of the run. As luck would have it, we got socked with our first winter storm the day before the run. I went out to mark the trail with Mark and Matt, and it was cold, windy, and totally different than anything we had been running in during the previous weeks. I honestly wasn’t sure if many people would show up with those types of conditions.

I planned on taking people through a 9 mile route of the course. This encompassed our usual 7 mile loop, with an additional 1-mile out-n-back spur to a different parking lot that I knew wouldn’t be busy. This parking lot also had the advantage of being a campground where we could get a fire going and set up a canopy for folks to set their food and get warm.

The morning of the run we started getting set up and soon enough people started pouring in. The weather wasn’t a deterrent at all, and before we knew it, the parking lot was full with 42 cars. I gathered people around at 7:30 and gave a brief overview of the course, and the charities that we were collecting donations for ($250 to split between Defeat the Stigma and Three Rivers Park Foundation!). I then launched people down the course, taking up a spot at the back as the course sweeper.

IMG_0107.JPGIt ended up being an amazingly beautiful morning. The snow was fresh and bright, and the wind wasn’t bad when you were inside the woods. I hung out with a few folks at the back of the pack, like Mike W. and we slowly made our way around the 9 mile loop. It took me a little over two hours to get back to the start/finish, and when I did all I heard was great things about the day. There was more than enough food for people, and the fire was roaring with a healthy group of people around it.

Everyone said they had a really great time, and loved the run. No one got lost, so the course markings worked well. Everyone managed to stay warm and comfortable despite the sudden plunge into winter. Around 10:30 it was time to pack it up and clean up after ourselves. I made sure that no one dropped any trash on the trail when I was sweeping, and we left the campsite without a trace.

It was a tremendously fun day in the woods in winter. I am so happy that I was able to provide a great experience for people, and that they had a wonderful time in the woods, learning about a trail they might never have run before. It was a great way to kick of the weekend!

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Some bread baking

A couple weeks ago I decided to try my hand at baking bread. When I was much, much younger we were gifted a bread machine, but as young people we only used it once or twice and that was about it. I saw some pics on the twitter feed of Wil Wheaton of some of the bread he’s been making and it got me inspired to give it a go myself.

I decided to go with a very simple white bread recipe, until I get better at feeling how the dough should behave. The recipe I used was very simple and apart from the yeast,  contained ingredients I already had at hand. One of the benefits of being a beer brewer is that I know how yeast is supposed to behave and smell. So I knew right away when I re-hydrated the packet of bread yeast that it was exactly the way it should be. It smelled like yeast, and looked like yeast, so therefore, it was yeast.

I got everything mixed together, and then my wife reminded me that when bread recipes call for flour I shouldn’t be packing the scoop tightly. I ended up only using about 1/2-2/3 of the flour the recipe called for because of this. I got the dough kneaded and then left it to rise, hoping I had everything done right. Sure enough a couple hours later it was ready to be punched down and formed into the loaves. I made a traditional loaf in a loaf pan, and then a round loaf on a cookie sheet. A few hours later and they came out of the oven, perfect as could be.

We brought some over to a gathering (with some compound butter my wife made), and within a few days the bread was all gone. I decided to try again this week and since my wife was making a stew that goes over bread really nicely, opted to make some small dollar buns with half of the dough. I also decided to give my stand mixer a try with it’s bread hook. This worked OK, but I feel that until I have a better handle on how it all should “feel” I should probably stick to mixing by hand.

I got everything formed and baked, but things didn’t come out perfectly. Because I was trying to create small dollar loaves I ended up severely over-kneading the dough and ended up with some weird textures on the top of the buns. They also tasted a little too flour-y, and had more of a dumpling character to them. However, the simple round loaf I made with the rest of the dough turned out much better. Maybe a bit too much flour, but not too bad.

I’ve really enjoyed making bread, and I’m anxious to try a third batch to make sure I’m feeling comfortable with the techniques before branching out into other creative styles. I’m considering some soda bread or potentially a sourdough with some homegrown yeast.

A wet mistake

As I write this, the region is being buffeted by its first real winter storm. I started working early this morning, when the sky was still dark, yet this darkness was punctuated by flashes of lightning. When I left for breakfast it was only starting to drizzle, but soon that light rain turned into a downpour.

My son was with me for breakfast and as we rushed across the parking lot I started to press the button on my car key to get the doors unlocked. I arrived at the car and tried to open the door but nothing budged. I pressed the button again… nothing. I pressed it a third time and realized I wasn’t hearing any clicking noises.

It was at this moment, the two of us standing in the rain, that I realized that this wasn’t our car. We were in fact parked 4-5 spots away, behind another row of cars. I turned and saw our car and yelled to my son, “This is the wrong car! We’re over there!” Needless to say we were nice and wet when we finally got seated in our vehicle.

That’s the problem with having a common car model and color. If it hadn’t been raining I’m sure I would have noticed quicker that my button presses weren’t making any noise, but the sound of the rain drowned out the regular cues I was used to. Despite some wetness, it was actually a very funny memory to share with my youngest, and I’m sure we’ll get a kick out of reminiscing about it for many years.