The lessons of winter

There are many things that winter teaches you in Minnesota. How to dress appropriately, the difference between types of snow, and often, how to simply have fun and enjoy it. However, one lesson that we were reminded of this year was that it’s always better to deal with the aftermath of a snowstorm in the morning than in the middle of the day.

Back in January we had a big storm roll through; nothing out of the ordinary, just a basic 6-8 incher. The problem was that it started around mid-day, after everyone had gone to work already. St. Paul Public Schools didn’t decide to end the school day early until it was far too late, and they paid the price. Many of their busses got stuck on the streets, and some kids didn’t make it home until after midnight. It was a complete debacle and PR nightmare.

This weekend the weather started to predict a big snow for Monday. As the hours got closer and closer it appeared that we were in for another repeat performance with a heavy snow hitting around mid-day again. After having learned their lesson in January, almost every school district in the area announced on Sunday eventing that they closed for the day Monday. Frankly, it was a wise move.

However, the weather decided to take it’s time, and the apart from a bunch of freezing drizzle, the main snow didn’t start to fall until late afternoon in the cities. Having lived in Minnesota almost my entire life, I know that tomorrow will be cries of complaint that there was no reason for school to be closed. Despite the fact that even the slightest shift of the storm track could have caused a repeat of January.

You see, in Minnesota our memories are short and selective when it comes to weather. We complain about the cold, or the snow, or the horrible job that the snow plows do. But then we forget that we’ve done this over and over, every year for all of the lives that we’ve lived here. Nothing we’re experiencing this winter is that different from any other winter in our history. In fact climate change has made things even a bit milder than when we were young.

Yet, we keep thinking that weathermen are all-knowing seers who can predict a storm path to the very minute and square foot. We believe that All-Wheel-Drive means we’re invincible and can ignore all road conditions. And we think that our lives are so busy and important that we can’t be inconvenienced, even a bit, to just let nature do it’s thing.

Fellow Minnesotans, let’s try, just this once, to remember what winter here is like, why we respect it, and why it’s an important part of what makes us who we are. Tough, bold, and hearty.

Breweries and soft drinks: a rant

Hey breweries!

You guys with all the awesome taprooms that I love to visit?

Ya you.

You all probably know how much I love visiting new breweries. I love the craft beer scene that we have here in the Twin Cities, and heck, even all over Minnesota. I love craft beer, and you guys have done an amazing job bringing high quality brews to the world at large. I love sampling all the new stuff you brew; weird concoctions (that sometimes don’t work out), and amazing new recipes that blow my tastebuds away.

You know what else I love? Hanging out in a comfortable taproom. I love sitting with friends and spending a couple hours just talking about life, politics, art, music… whatever. There’s nothing quite like a great taproom environment to help someone relax and enjoy themselves, either alone or in the company of others. Heck, I spend almost every Wednesday night of my life visiting different taprooms with friends (usually on bike), just because we want an excuse to hang out.

When I travel, I ensure that I hit at least a couple breweries on my trip. I love seeing what the beer scene is like outside of my Twin Cities bubble. In fact, my Untappd unique beer count goes through the roof whenever I travel, which is incredibly fun to see. Even when I’m not traveling, one of the regular activities with my wife is to visit a taproom, just to hang out. She knows how much I love craft beer, and trying new beers, and despite the fact she doesn’t drink, she loves being in a beautiful taproom and being together.

You know what I don’t like? When a brewery doesn’t think about the non-drinkers, and the designated drivers, in the groups of people who show up. I realize that you make almost no money on any soft drinks that you sell, but you also know what? If you don’t have non-alcoholic options available it makes it a hell of a lot less likely that my wife and I are going to spend time there. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a beautiful taproom, enjoying some amazing beer, and feeling awkward as my non-drinking spouse and friends sit patiently sipping their room temperature water.

And you know what else? I’m not asking for you to expand your horizons to weird and experimental craft sodas. My son could care less about your “IPA of sodas” made with lime and tonic water (it tasted like s**t). My wife doesn’t need your guava infused, rose-petal, cranberry kombucha soda hybrid garbage. They just want a solid root beer, Coke, or 7-Up. They’re not there to experience some incredible new flavor of pop. They’re there to hang out with friends who like craft beer.

No one is asking you to enter a new market segment. Really, it’s not that hard. Just run down to the local gas station and pick up a couple cases of some different flavors of pop and stick them in a cooler. That’s all. No one is going to think any less of your hipster, craft beer-cred because people can also ask for a can of Diet Coke or a La Croix. Those designated drivers and non-drinkers just want to hang out in your cool taproom with their friends and family. They want to experience the cool environment you’ve created. They’re not asking for much, just something simple to drink.

Oh and get this… if you want me, the craft beer drinker, to spend more money? Give my group a reason to stay longer. If my non-drinking friends who are hanging out with me have something to drink, I’m going to keep spending money, and drinking more of your beer. Isn’t that what you want?


The death of Liberal Arts?

The other day I started thinking about my career path, and contrasted it with the career path that my children will most likely take. When I grew up in the 80’s, the Baby Boomer generation dominated the culture at large. That means that people from that generation were instrumental in defining how many of us viewed our unfolding futures. The mantra when I was young was that to be successful, you go to college, get a 4 year degree, and then you can get a good job and live the American Dream. My fellow Gen X’ers can attest… sometimes we feel like we’ve been handed a load of bullshit.

The reality of what many of us discovered is that getting a 4 year degree did help us get a job. However, the idea that we would be happy in these jobs, or that we could find fulfillment in them is a pipe dream that was rarely fulfilled. I can attest that my four year degree in Liberal Arts did a lot to help me become a rational and skilled thinker, but it did nothing to teach me skills for my eventual career. I wouldn’t trade my experience in my undergrad at all, it was a rich time of learning. But for my kids, I’m telling a different story.

For my children, I’m encouraging them to look in to the trades. Whether it’s the traditional construction/manufacturing areas, or healthcare, or even skilled technology/media. If they chose to go get a 4 year degree, I’m certainly not going to stop them, but unlike my experience, I’m not presenting it as the only path to achieving success. Why the change of heart? I believe that the Internet has fundamentally changed what it means to be a liberal arts thinker.

In my youth, it was the scholars and academics that held the key to deep knowledge. If you wanted to learn something deeply, you had to first learn how to access that information. Liberal Arts folks like myself were masters at navigating academic libraries. We knew where all the materials were, and we knew how to find what we were looking for. Often that involved being able to page through a book, using it’s index and table of contents, to narrow down if it had any bits of knowledge for us. It was a very experiential and physical method of learning, but it’s what we mastered.

Fast forward 25 years, and the global information revolution has happened, and completely changed how we learn and research knowledge. No longer do we need to be masters of esoteric shelving systems, or archaic indexes. Now, we can use natural language queries to simply ask powerful computers for what we are looking for. The vast, combined, store of knowledge of humanity is literally at our fingertips. It’s simply a Google search away.

Though others may disagree with me, I don’t think this has led to the death of higher academic learning either. Just because you need to pass through a paywall to read academic articles does not mean that they are no longer relevant. I can’t even begin to imagine how much better my academic work would have been if I had access to the tools that we have now. To be able to create a hypothesis, test it, and then draw conclusions of that test, all in a single evening without leaving your computer, is insane. There’s a lot of garbage out there, but, to quote a famous show from my youth, “The Truth is Out There”.

So why the emphasis on trades? Is it because I don’t believe that my children should learn “how to learn” like I did? Not at all. I believe that we need to restructure how we educate in this country. Because of the intense emphasis on getting a 4 year degree, the high school years have turned into benign and neutered learning experiences. Much of high school is simply teaching some basic facts so that people can muddle their way towards what is supposed to be their eventual goal, that 4 year degree. We need to return to making High School a powerful learning experience that teaches kids how to think broadly. We need to bring Liberal Arts back into our kid’s teenage years.

We need to start graduating robust, well rounded, thinkers from high school. Not just people who are looking at getting by until they get to the “real” educational experience in college. Kids young minds are fresh for molding, and a solid Liberal Arts background is what we should be instilling. Then, when they get out of high school they can start to think about what they want to do with their lives. Plus, they can avoid the massive crushing debt that many people in my generation have found themselves in.

This also means that we need to start doing something that is incredibly difficult for me… distance my search from happiness and fulfillment from what I do for a day job. I’m talked about my own career angst in the past, so I won’t drag that out here, but in general I believe we need to change the conversation for our youth. Many of the most fulfilling careers out there are ones that may not be glamorous, but they can provide a solid income so that you can do the things you love in your personal time. This is certainly not the message I grew up with, and it’s one that I struggle with almost every single day. But, as I look at the world my kids are inheriting, it forces me to challenge my experiences.

As often happens, I’ve now rambled for close to 1000 words, and perhaps I’ve made sense, or maybe I’ve left some things even muddier than before. What I’m hoping in this exercise is to get people thinking about what it means to be a real-thinker in the Internet world. How do we take this incredible access to knowledge, and reshape what we expect out of our lives? Is it time to re-think what we look at as the normal educational path and change it up? How do we build up strong adults, who are perhaps much braver than my generation was?

Gen X’ers went along with the status quo because our parents told us to. Those that follow us see the boomers as the aging grandparents who “don’t get it”. That freedom is something we never had, and it opens up new possibilities, not just for our kids, but for us as well. I know plenty of people my age who would love to shake up the status quo. Maybe our children will lead us.

Death of a brewery

Today the news broke that local brewery NorthGate has ceased operations. I only recently learned that they had sold the business to an investor, and it appears that the new owners decided it was time to shut it down. This is a sad day, as this was one of my favorite breweries in the metro area. They brewed English style beers, and actually knew how to brew them well. My wife, and my Beer & Bikes group has been there many, many times. They were also big soccer fans and you would see dozens of scarves on the wall from teams around the world.

IMG_5043.jpgRunning a business is hard, and the world of small breweries is still somewhat unknown for many people. The level of competition in a growing market such as the Twin Cities, the level of distribution, location, and a host of other factors make for a complex environment to do business. Many of us have wondered how many of the new breweries would make it, long-term, and amazingly only a couple have closed so far. I just wish this wasn’t one of them.