Time for a VPN

This past week our federal congress decided to roll back protections on privacy on the Internet, and open the floodgates to our personal habits being bought and sold. They did this through a repeal of an FCC privacy rule that required ISP’s to get your permission before selling your internet usage data. You may be asking why this is a big deal, since it seems like our privacy on the internet is already compromised? Unlike sharing your data with Apple or Google or Amazon, your ISP is mostly hidden to you. In our neck of the woods Comcast and Century Link are the two monopolies in the Cable and DSL world. You sign up with them to provide you a connection to the internet, and then you forget about them.

Previously, they were prohibited from collecting information about what you did on the internet, unless they expressly asked for your permission. You could imagine a similar scenario with the electric company. You don’t want the electric company selling data about when you turn your lights on and off to the highest bidder. To most people, that type of information is an invasion of your privacy. It’s no one’s business what you’re doing with your internet service or your electrical service unless you’re doing something wrong. However, selling that information has become a big deal, and it’s the motivation behind the removal of privacy protections. At least with Google and Apple you’re made fully aware that they may use your information, and you give them permission.

Therefore, last night I purchased a personal VPN product to use on my devices. A VPN is a way to mask the sites that you are visiting from your ISP by using a third-party server as a proxy of your internet traffic. There are multiple solutions out there, and I’m evaluating one of the bigger ones right now to see how it performs. So far it’s worked as expected, and I feel like my little personal protest is the least I can do to keep my life a bit more in my control.

It’s scary that my friend living in China and I now have something in common in our need to hide our internet habits from others (in his case the government, and in mine corporations). This isn’t something I expected to have to ever do in the US.

A new tattoo!

Last week I got a message from my tattoo artist that he was going to be in town for a few days, and wanted to see if there were any pieces I wanted to get done. I’ve got some ideas for larger works, but also some smaller ones. In particular I’ve been wanting to commemorate my history with technology with an image that reflects where I got my start.

My very first computer was a Commodore 64 back in 1982. I was 8 years old, and it was the most amazing thing I owned. From that computer I learned how to program, and use an operating system, and how hardware worked. It was the start of a career that has now spanned close to two decades.

To honor this, I decided I wanted an image of the CPU that powered the Commodore 64, the 6502 chip. This workhorse of a chip was an amazing piece of technology in it’s day. Systems such as the Apple IIe, Nintendo Famicom, Atari 2600 all used this chip (or variants), in addition to my beloved Commodore. It was truly a piece of my childhood in silicon form.

My artist put together a nice rendition of the chip that wasn’t just a mechanical drawing of it, but was fun and stylized. I also asked that he make it look as if it was attached to my skin, and had him place the art on my back between my shoulder blades. In other words, it looks like I’m personally powered by the 6502. Additionally, I had him use the date of 1982 for the serial number on the chip, to designate when I got my C64.

I’m very pleased with this idea and how it came out. This is a meaningful piece of my life, and this chip is responsible for the career I’ve at to this point. I felt like this was the best and more appropriate way to honor that history in tattoo form.

Some serious stairs at John Latsch State Park

On our way back from Winona this weekend the wife and I decided to hit some State Parks. We’re always on the lookout for “Brown Signs” and we often find wonderful gems when we randomly pull off the highway to check out something different that we’ve never been to before. This weekend we noticed John Latsch State Park as we were traveling up Highway 61. I hadn’t really heard of this park, so I was curious what it was about. It turns out that it’s a very small park, and it only has one main feature; a beautiful overlook on top of a bluff, 450 feet in the air.

To reach this bluff, you have to climb stairs that have been built on to the side of the hill. We weren’t quite sure what we were in for, but we decided to give it a try. Plus, a stair workout is great training for trails. It took a good 15-20 minutes to make our way to the top, and that included a bunch of pauses to rest along the way. However, when we got there, the view was amazing.

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At 450 feet, it was like climbing a skyscraper, and at times my vertigo felt like it as well. I was happy once I reached the summit and felt more solid ground under my feet. It was a bit of a treacherous climb, not just because of the lack of railings at many points, but because many of the stairs were quite damp. If my wife and I weren’t seasoned trail people, I would have turned back in the first 50 feet. We had to know how and where to plant our feet to avoid slipping all over the place. The trip down was nearly as slow, as the wet stairs, and their uneven distance, prevented moving quickly.

Once we arrived back at the car our legs were screaming, but in a good way. Despite the pain, I’m glad we stopped and saw something we had never seen before.

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Winona Breweries, pt 2 & National Eagle Center

IMG_0649We started our second day of the trip with a wonderful visit to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN. We got to see some beautiful eagles up close, as well as some eagles out over the river. One of the coolest parts for me was when we spotted a tree out on an island in the river with four bald eagles perched in it, just chilling out. We have tons of eagles up in the metro area, but getting to see so many of them in one place was a lot of fun.

IMG_0652We also got to see a special presentation by the Cincinnati Zoo where they showed off a bunch of different birds from around the world, including macaws and owls. It was fun to have a bunch of colorful birds buzz the audience as they talked about their habitats. They made sure to highlight a simple way to help birds in South America, recycling aluminum cans. Apparently, some of the biggest deposits of bauxite are in areas where many of these birds live, and by recycling we can limit the amount of new bauxite that we need to take out of the ground. My only regret of the morning was forgetting my good camera at home.

Once the bird show was done we grabbed some lunch at a nice Mexican restaurant in town and headed back to Winona to try a couple new breweries. The first on our list is the brand new Island City Brewing Company. This brewery opened a week ago, which always causes me to expect the worst. Many breweries have a hard time moving into production, and as a prime example, the brewery I visited on Wednesday had been open 4 months and was pretty terrible. However, Island City showed that it’s very possible to nail an opening.

IMG_0655They don’t do flights, but they offer short pours that looked around 6oz. I got two of their regular beers, a red and a berliner weisse, as well as their special red with an infusion of juniper, orange, and mint. The red intrigued me because it was a 3.5% ABV beer, and I’m always on the lookout for nice session beers. However, trying to impart good malt body into a beer so light is difficult. I’m pleased to report that Island City nailed it with this one. It had a great malt body, yet was refreshing and flavorful, like a red should be. The infusion version was a completely different taste than I have ever had, and reminded me of a nice herbal tea. It was something different and I was happy I tried it.

IMG_0656The final beer of my sampling was their berliner weisse, and it was a wonderful example of how a sour beer should taste. It was a great ‘sour patch’ tart beer, which isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed the balance. Overall, Island City is doing things right. They have a fun warehouse space in a very, very old building right on the river, and their opening lineup is very solid. If I had one complaint it is that they don’t do a proper flight (they only have four beers on tap not counting the infusion), and that they don’t do small growlers. I have a hard time going through 64oz of beer on my own at home before it gets so flat that it’s just not tasty anymore. Apart from these minor quibbles I was really pleased with what Island City offered. It was well worth the trip.

Our second stop of the day was Wenonah Brewing, which was just north of Winona in Goodview, MN. For as quaint and professional as Island City was, Wenonah was on the opposite side of the spectrum. The building looked like a former gas station, and the inside remodel job looked pretty rough. It was mostly comfortable though, and the staff was very, very friendly. Wenonah does flight sized samples, so I ordered up a set of 5, one of each of their beers.

 

IMG_0658As I worked through their beers my overall impression was mediocre. The nut brown ale was way too dark, and the IPA was a complete failure. I’m really tired of places that try to use earthy hops to make an IPA, as it usually just doesn’t work. The beer ends up being overly dank, to the point of tasting like dirt. The only real winner out of the flight was the Honey Cream Ale which was well balanced and drinkable. As I was talking with the staff they pointed out their brewing setup, which was basically just a very large homebrew setup with a bit of extra pumps and plumbing. Everything they do is small batch, and so I assume they change out their flavors quite often.

The contrast from Island City was very apparent. Until a week ago Wenonah was the only game in town. If someone wanted to experience a brewery taproom, they were it. Now that they’ve got some competition I feel like they need to step up their game a bit more. I foresee them becoming the more ‘counter-cultural’ place to hang out vs. the established Island City. Thankfully, the beer culture, even in outstate Minnesota, is expanding to allow for different perspectives in beer. I think if Wenonah can up their quality game just a little bit, and focus on being that place with unique, ever changing flavors, they can establish their niche. Much like how places like Dangerous Man work in the metro area.

Once we finished up, we headed back to the hotel for a nice relaxing afternoon and evening before dinner. So far it’s been a really nice relaxing trip. Tomorrow is some early morning running and then a stop at Red Wing Brewery for lunch on the way home. Another great weekend away with the wife, sharing in an adventure.

 

 

 

Winona Breweries, pt 1

This past weekend, the wife and I decided to take another short trip out of town, and of course, breweries were a part of the weekend. We headed down to Winona to check out a couple of places down there, including one that just opened a week ago. On our way down we decided to go through Rochester (MN), and we stopped in at a brewery just north of the city that we hadn’t been to yet, LTS Brewing Company.

LTS stands for Life’s Too Short, and based on my first impression of the beers at LTS, I 100% agree. They have an impressive tap list, and since we were just passing through I only got to sample 4 of them on a flight. Overall, the direction of their beer trends European, with many Belgians, dunkels, and bocks. For my flight of four I chose an Irish red, a dunkel lager, a bock, and a Scottish 80 schilling.

The Irish red came served on nitro, which I honestly wish more breweries would do with their amber and red beers. The smoothness of nitro really complements the deeper, more earthy, character of many red beers. That was no exception in this case, as my first taste confirmed that this place knows what they’re doing.

The next beer on my flight was a dunkel lager, cutely named ‘Dunkelstiltskin’. It was smooth yet rich, and ended up being the beer that I bought a half-growler of to bring home. I followed this up with their bock, which hit all the right notes that a bock should. It was deep and malty, with a clean finish. The final beer on my flight was the 80 schilling, and although this is a unique taste, it’s one that I enjoy. It was nice and peaty with that traditional Scottish yeast flavor.

If you can’t tell, I really liked what LTS was serving. Everything was well made and, despite some minor adjustments for uniqueness, matched the category of the style they were aiming for. I highly recommend making this a stop if you’re passing through Rochester, MN and sampling their wares. Life truly is too short when there’s so many good beers like what you find at LTS!

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