Some bird photos

There were some birds hanging out outside our windows the other day. I got a couple OK shots, but I wish I didn’t have a screen on my windows to get in the way. The images are a bit dulled by the screen, even though I was backed away from it. I still feel like they are worth sharing though!

National Parks

This past year my wife and I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of National Parks or National Monuments run by the National Park Service. This year is the 100th anniversary of the NPS, and there are celebrations all over the internet. Today, Google even devoted their doodle to it, plus if you used Google maps you’d notice that the streetview stick figure became a park ranger.

The National Park system is one of the treasures of this country. Land that has been set aside to be preserved and protected, yet accessible for people to experience. It’s a strange dichotomy that didn’t always work well, but in recent years both science and tourism were able to really work together. The New Yorker has an excellent article about the history of science in the parks, that I would encourage people to read.

As for my wife and I, we’re on a quest to continue to discover what these parks have to offer. We’re not just limited to actual parks, as the NPS maintains many sites around the country that don’t fall under the designation as a park. Our recent visit to Effigy Mounds Monument is an example of a site that is amazing, but not quite a full park. Even though Minnesota only has one National Park, there are plenty of places to visit in our State that the NPS maintains.

I would also encourage people to visit Minnesota State Parks. I worked for 8 years for the Department of Natural Resources, and our State Parks are jewels to cherish in our State. Many of them are in some of the most scenic areas of the state such as the North Shore, and south along the river bluffs. Even though they don’t have the name of “National” parks, they are well worth spending time in as well.

Happy anniversary NPS! May we continue to support you as a nation that loves our land and wants to see it preserved for future generations.

Beer, Bikes and Baseball

My beer and bike group that I ride with decided to hit up a Twins game tonight. I have been to Target Field a few times, but tonight was actually the first time I went there for a baseball game. We had a good time, although by the eighth inning we left because we were losing 9-4. I did manage to get a couple cool photos. The one at the top was enhanced in Lightroom mobile, and the one below is a panorama.

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Trains (the game)

The family hit Fantasy Flight Game Center on Tuesday night and we tried out a new game, called Trains. It’s a unique combination of a deck building game, and a board game. The goal of the game is to expand your rail lines across the map, building stations in various cities, to earn more victory points by the end of the game than your opponents. You achieve this by building a deck of cards with which to lay more track, build stations, and buy more cards (as in traditional deck building).

We had a fun time for our first time out with this game, and got the hang of it pretty quickly (we’re all experienced deck builders). Having a board added a very unique aspect to the game. Not only was the goal about collecting victory points, but there was a spatial element to contend with. As players built around the map it changed the cost of routes, meaning that strategies need to change part way through. There are also random sets of cards to purchase that change every game, meaning that what worked in one play-through, may not be as effective this time around.

We had a really fun time learning and playing Trains, and if you’re a deck building fan I think you’d really enjoy it. It’s familiar, but different enough to make it more engaging that just another set of artwork on the same old deck building concept.

A night of shoe shopping

I recently purchased a new pair of Salomon Fellraiser’s online in a sale. I had used the 2015 version for quite a while and they fit really well on rugged trails like Superior Hiking Trail and Zumbro. However, when I received the 2016 version of the shoe it just didn’t fit right. It almost felt like a defect in how the right foot wrapped around my midfoot, squeezing harder than the left. I sent the shoes back and started looking around at a replacement.

Monday night I spent a good hour at Twin Cities Running Company trying on different shoes. I ended up trying on close to 9 pairs of different trail shoes as I searched for my next pair. I narrowed my search down to three: Saucony Xodus 6.0, Brooks Cascadia 11, and Salomon Speedcross 4. The Saucony Perigrine 6 was also a close runner up, but it was just a bit too soft on the side for rugged trails, and I felt my feet slip off the side a bit.

The Xodus were a nice rugged shoe, with a really comfortable sock-like fit. However, they didn’t feel very cushioned, especially compared to the Speedcross. The Salomon’s were by far the most cushioned of any of these, and they felt really good on my feet. In the end though, I decided on the Brooks Cascadia 11.

When I tried on the Books and the Salomon, one on each foot, I felt very comfortable in either shoe. They both had a fair amount of cushion, and the uppers were rugged, but flexible. What it came down to, for me, was that the Brooks just seemed to fit a slight bit better. In Salomon I have to wear a size larger than other shoes in order to accommodate my midfoot. This means that there is a bit of a gap in the toe, and although it probably wouldn’t be an issue, I decided that the Brooks were probably the safer choice.

What’s funny is that my very first pair of trail shoes were Brooks Cascadia 10’s. They saw me through two big trail races, and many, many training runs at Elm Creek. These new ones will hopefully serve me just as well as I head into my busy fall trail racing season.

The anatomy of a ‘like’

The other day, when I opened up my Instagram, I proceeded to click the little heart/like button on all the photos in my feed. I then moved over to Facebook and started to click ‘like’ on a bunch of things that my friends had posted. Then I stopped and started to think. Did I actually “like” what these people had photographed or shared? Or was I simply exercising an internal behavior to acknowledge what others say?

It got me thinking about what the purpose of the “like” button really is. In many ways, I often treat the “like” button as an “acknowledgement” button. It’s a way to say, “Ok, thanks, I heard you.” But is that really what I should use it for? Shouldn’t I really be reserving my “likes” to those things that stand out as something worth giving kudos on? Am I contributing to a culture of self-aggrandizing social exhibitionism by simply using the like button as an acknowledgement?

Perhaps I would be better served to actually reward kudos to those things that are really something I “like”. Maybe I should stop pressing the heart button on every Instagram photo, unless it’s something that truly grabs me. As someone who blogs everyday, I’m not looking for acknowledgement when I post something. I’m looking for people to give feedback and only give praise when I do something worth praising. Writing a daily blog is about discipline, and I know that there are a good number of days when I post something that isn’t the best it could be, but I’m exercising my creative brain, so I post what I can. Should people ‘like’ something that isn’t that great?

I’m sure I’m overthinking all of this way too much, but it was a thought that crossed my mind today, and I decided it was worth sharing.

Brewing an Irish Red

My friend Michael does a big Oktoberfest celebration every year, complete with lots of wurst and beer. In the past I’ve contributed a keg to his parties, but I hadn’t done that in quite a few years. This year I decided to step up again, and offer to help, by contributing to one of this taps. After talking about what styles he needed, we settled on an Irish Red. I’ve found that having a purpose to brew, besides competitions, really helps me to get more motivated to brew. I was actually very excited to get this batch going.

My original plan was to brew on Sunday morning, but Saturday was a rainy morning, and felt like a better day to sit in the garage with boiling water for a few hours. Since I’ve brewed so infrequently, and I wanted to make sure this beer turned out well, I stuck with an extract wort. It makes the brew day go faster, and really ensures that you’re starting your boil without any major issues.

I’ve taken to naming my beers for areas of the Twin Cities, and this beer will be known as Swity’s Felyn Irish Red. Edward Felyn was one of the earlier settlers of Saint Paul, and as such there are places named for him. As with many immigrants, their names came to be spelled differently in the new world, so the name probably doesn’t look familiar to most people. But when you say it out loud you realize what part of Saint Paul currently bears his name. Specifically, Lake Phalen in east Saint Paul near where I grew up.

Edward Felyn wasn’t a great guy, and was acquitted of murder at one point in his life before fleeing to California to avoid prosecution of other crimes. On the way his companions killed him in what they claim was self-defense. He was truly a character that fit into the wild west of early American expansion.

The ale I’m brewing is a straight up Irish Red, hopped with Fuggles. I’m using Maris Otter extract to give it more of a European malt character, but overall it doesn’t stray from a traditional Irish Red. As I write this I am in the middle of the boil, and everything is going well. I have soothing music coming out of my laptop, with a steaming pot of wort in front of me. It’s a peaceful way to spend a Saturday.