Monday, February 27, 2017

Sunday Sales is pretty much in the bag, what's next?

Now that Sunday Sales (finally) is going to be a reality in Minnesota, what else can beer activism focus on in Minnesota?

For me, it comes down to 4 things:

Items that would help out small business owners such as liquor stores, breweries, brewpubs:

  • Remove on/off sale distinctions - allow bars to sell bottles/cans for off-site consumption and allow liquor stores to sell growlers, charge for pints and have a "taproom" - this passed in North Carolina a few years ago and has aided in the opening of many specialty wine and beer shops because they can now focus on a craft segment and increase their margins by serving pints without having to worry as much about margins.
  • Eliminate distinction between brewpubs and breweries. Today brewpubs (Town Hall, Northbound, etc) can sell growlers but cannot distribute beer. They can serve other people's product and have a liquor license. Breweries cannot serve other people's product or wine/liquor but can distribute. By eliminating this distinction, breweries could have guest taps, and even apply for a full liquor license if local conditions warrant. This would allow locations to also get into distilling (think Bent Brewstillery) and be able to serve their own product. Brewpubs would be able to distribute and would essentially become a brewery.
Additional items that would help breweries:
  • Eliminate restrictions for off sale (64/32 oz "growlers" today, but see next point) based on brewery size.
  • Eliminate restrictions on off sale container formats at breweries. This will allow breweries to brew more one-offs in cans/bottles/whatever they want that they don't have to send to distribution and can sell right out of the brewery.

Some version of these two would go a long way towards keeping us competitive with other states, encourage beer tourism and give small business owners viable high margin income streams to be able to compete with larger competitors.

I developed these 4 items from observing other states in my travels and seeing the impact some of these things can have on the local economy. My cynical side tells me some of these will never pass here. The distributors/unions will not be a fan of some of these as it will further reduce their (already too high) power. There will be liquor store owners that don't want to make the capital investment in a "tap room" and they will probably object. There will be restaurant owners that will object to allowing on sale in additional locations. I think they key to any of these passing is making the pie bigger for everybody. May be tough to get the distributors in on that.

Some version/variant of all of these is already in play in many states and Minnesota can be a leader in this which will continue to help expand the economic importance of our beer and spirits industries.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Getting a ride

My wife and I went to an Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday. We've been in the habit of taking a car2go to our destination when we both want to drink, and then finding an alternate way home. Having used UberBlack multiple times, but finding it a bit expensive, we're always on the lookout for other options. I'm frequently able to make the bus work, which obviously the cheapest option by far. But sometimes it's not particularly convenient.

Thankfully, the City of Minneapolis approved additional options over the summer, opening the way to lower cost services such as Lyft and UberX. The taxis are also trying there hand at a better experience locally with TruTaxi.

So, Saturday we were out in Northeast at Bauhaus Brew Labs. We took car2go over there and judging from the number of them parked outside, were not the only ones. We walked over to Indeed Brewing afterwards for one, then to the SuperAmerica on Broadway. We had to be downtown in 40 minutes. The bus was not an option due to time and distance. So I used TruTaxi for the first time to request a cab. After hanging for a minute, it said our cab driver was assigned and he'd be there in 5 minutes.

Then we waited. And waited, and waited. The app lets you see where your driver is. He was over the river in north and not moving. It also lets you call him. Frankly, after waiting for that long, I cancelled. And decided to try lyft for the first time.

Lyft is a one button experience, you click and it summons a driver. We were assigned a driver that was 5 or 6 blocks away and she was there in minutes. Was greeted in a very friendly manner and she figured out where we were going without much fuss. Was super nice to talk to and just a great overall experience.

Then I got an invoice from TruTaxi saying they had charged me a cancellation fee of $.01 cent. I almost disputed on principle but decided it wasn't even worth my time. I deleted the app immediately and probably won't be using it again. I admire them for trying but the experience was terrible.

Lyft will become a regular option in our stable of transportation options for sure.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Weight Loss Update - Down 64 lbs

When I last updated on my food choices and my lifestyle change back in April, I was several months into a ketogenic diet and had lost about 50 pounds. Here we are almost 4 months later in August and as of today I'm down almost 64 pounds. So clearly, things have slowed down, but I'm keeping to my low carb high fat diet. I stalled for a while, hovering in the 50-60lbs lost range for a few months.  But I'm back on track and I've lost 10lbs in the last two weeks. So what's been going on?

A few things contributed to my stall. My one vice in this changeover was that I never stopped drinking beer. As you may know, beer is sometimes referred to as liquid bread. It's counter to what I'm trying to do. Early in my dietary changes I could get away with occasionally having a few beers without it seriously impact my loss, but as my body mass has decreased it hasn't been as easy to get away with consuming beer. A few beers sends me into a week-long stall.  So I'm in the middle of a 30 day challenge to stop drinking all alcohol. Not that hard for me - it's a bit of a damper on my social life, but so are studying for exams and my kids.

The second factor was that I stopped tracking my food intake in mid-April. I was going on the theory that you eat until you're full and that you shouldn't have to count calories. This didn't work particularly well for me because while I could hold my calories in line with maintaining my weight, I was struggling to create a deficit which would promote weight loss, even with moderate exercise. So I'm back to tracking my foods, even if it is a mild inconvenience.

Related to the tracking was the protein creep. Some information on ketogenic diets indicates that if you let your protein intake increase enough relative to fat that it will have a gluconeogenesis effect similar to if you were eating carbs. This may have been happening to me but since I wasn't tracking foods, I didn't know for sure.

So after my family vacation in which I stayed low carb on food but ate whatever I wanted within that bound for a week and had a few beers or cocktails  every day, I decided to tighten things up. And I can already call it a success after 3 weeks.

Even the easiest form of this lifestyle where you cut carbs and don't track foods is tough for a lot of people, but the tracking adds another layer. But it helps me to stay accountable and not let my portion creep start to get out of control. And it's helping to keep my protein in check. I've actually loosened up on the carb restriction in the diet, occasionally having a few blueberries, an ear of corn, or some squash.

When I hit the sweet spot, it's not unusual to have days where I drop a pound. It evens out with other days where I don’t lose anything or even go up slightly. I weigh myself daily first thing in the morning (after I've used the facilities and before I eat or drink anything).

I'm eating 1500-2000 calories a day without any struggle of feeling hungry. I've backed off on the eggs and bacon, breakfast staples that i ate a lot of early in this dietary change and I'm drinking bulletproof coffee which I use 2 TBSP of Kerrygold unsalted butter (available locally at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, harder to find in most mainline grocery stores) and 1 TBSP of coconut oil. I put that with 10-16 oz. of coffee in a blender on high for 30 seconds and enjoy it. It tastes not unlike a latte to me and helps keep me full all morning.

Otherwise, I eat a lot of salads with a high fat low carb dressing like blue cheese or ranch. I've cut the protein dose of chicken or red meat to just one meal a day and have limited my cheese intake but still have a bit every day.

All said, I feel better than I have in years. I have more energy, I can do things with my kids without getting winded, and I'm just generally enjoying life despite a lot of stressors.

I'm really excited that I'll probably be able to keep up maintenance once I'm to goal weight without having to track long term and still be able to have a few beers here and there. Because even though I stalled for a while, I was able to maintain my weight and not have any substantial gains over the past two months. And that was with eating whatever quantity I felt like eating within the bounds of the dietary lifestyle I've chosen.

I'll do another update when I'm closer to goal weight - I do think it's going to take me another 6 months to a year to get there, but I'm confident that I can do it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Update - June 2013

What a year it's been on the reading front. 21 books down as of yesterday. Not bad for a mid-year total and I'm on pace to read over 40 this year, which would be the highest total achieved since I started tracking in 2011.

The Kindle Paperwhite and ebook lending from the Hennepin County Library has played a key role in my book reading this year. I'm reading a number of old series from fiction authors and most are available in eBook format. Recently, I've gone back to some paperback and hardcover books too, because there's still nothing like reading a paper book. While I greatly enjoy the conveniences of electronic, there's still a joy for me from turning the pages and the smells and tactile responses that accompany reading paper books.

Because I'm cheap and I'm not always good about putting in reservations in at the library before the hold list hits triple digits, I've not read too many new releases this year, but that's OK, I've always been more of a back catalog spelunker anyway.

I'm caught up on John Sandford's Prey Series, having read Stolen Prey in January. His new one, Silken Prey just came out but I'll probably wait til I can get it from the library. Honestly, it's time for Lucas Davenport to hang it up. When you have a series and you're getting into the mid-20s on books, there's only so much more you can do with the characters. I still enjoy reading but they're pretty tired. At this point, we've been with Davenport for a good chunk of his life and he's managed to evolve the character through the years to keep it interesting, but I don't expect there to be many more books in this series.

On that front, I also read Sandford's Virgil Flowers series up to the most recent book. It took a book or two to warm up on me, but I'm a fan. Good entertaining, and mildly mindless page turners. I'm about half a dozen books away from polishing off the entire Sandford catalog.

I've also been making progress on James Patterson's Alex Cross series - I really enjoy Cross and his adventures - a smartly written detective series with entertaining recurring characters, both protagonist and antagonist. It's another page turner that I can get behind and I look forward to reading every time another eBook becomes available (the old books are still pretty popular).

Besides those series, I've one-offed a lot of nonfiction - recently taking in 3 non fiction travel books by Paul Theroux. I really enjoyed The Old Patagonian Express and also read The Great Railway Baazar and Dark Star Safari. The latter got a little long winded for me, but the first two train adventures were entertaining. I'll be working my way through his non-fiction for the rest of the summer, I'm guessing - it's good cabin reading.

After hearing an interview with Warren Littlefield on Bullseye with Jessie Thorn, I checked out his autobiographical Must See TV and read it in 2 days flat. It was fun to read about the behind the scenes of many shows that I watched growing up, and it really was appointment television.

I finally finished Reamde by Neal Stephenson, after about 5 false starts. Decent read, but his info dumps get really tiring, and this one was no different.

I also read a couple of Micheal Lewis books including the classic Moneyball. I enjoyed it, and I look forward to finally reading the copy of The Big Short that's been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years.

I was sad to hear about the passing of Vince Flynn a few weeks ago. While I often didn't agree with his politics, I enjoyed him as an author and it reminded me that I have 3 or 4 books to still read of his.

I've still got many series that I'm in the middle of and more books to read than time, but that's what I love about the hobby.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Social and RSS

A few weeks ago I wrote about Fever, a self hosted RSS reading solution with some unique features. After a couple more weeks of use, I think it's going to be my near-term solution to the Google Reader death while I wait to see what else comes along in the next few months.

When evaluating what I wanted for a future reading tool, I ultimately want to use something with good integrated social features (Fever does not really have much other than hooking into other social sites - which it does pretty well) that a critical mass of my friends and acquaintances also use. Google Reader was this for a time, but since the splinter off to Google +, it's really a subset of what it once was, and now that's going to get even more splintered.

In the near term, people seem to be moving to several services with mixed levels of social integration and slightly different features. Some are using Feedly which seemingly doesn't have much in the way of integrated social, though admittedly I have not spent a lot of time using it. Others are using The Old Reader, and a few people are using Newsblur. I have accounts on all of these services and even kicked in for a one year subscription to Newsblur because I like their mobile clients quite a bit, but I find myself hardly ever using them.

Ultimately, nothing is a complete solution right now, and Fever comes the closest for what I want to do, minus the social features. I'm starting to think we'll never achieve critical mass in the social realm on another service again, but maybe that's OK. I've just not used many of the other tools as link finding because I find them to be pretty inefficient for those purposes. Facebook has a link view, but I'd have to do some fine tuning of who shows up in there to make it worth my time, and a lot of my friends that I enjoy links from don't link there. Twitter doesn't have such a view that I'm aware of (I wish it did) and I find it hard to keep up with interesting links there sometimes. There are some third party tools but I've never found them to be of much help (probably because I don't follow enough people).

Fever's spark/kindling model is starting to work well for me and I'll write about that more in a future post.

Monday, April 8, 2013

How I've lost almost 50 pounds, and set myself up with a sustainable way of life

I talked about my weight loss journey a few months back, after I'd lost about 20 pounds. Here we are two months later and I've lost another 25 pounds and I'm closing in on 50 pounds lost, with roughly another 50-60 to go to get to my goal weight. And a lot of people have asked how I'm doing it, so I thought I would share.

All about "Keto"
Standard disclosure before I begin - I have researched this way of life extensively, and there are lots of materials emerging to support it. I admit that I was very skeptical about it when I first encountered it, but I'm another example of living proof that it works. And when you start to understand the science behind it, particularly how our body deals with sugars, it starts to make a lot of sense.

About a month into my weight loss effort, I switched to a ketogenic (aka "Keto") diet. It's also known as "Low Carb, High Fat". The Atkins diet is similar (though they've focused on "replacement" foods a little too much). Paleo (aka Primal) is a cousin diet that you may have heard of. They all focus on eating a different ratio of Carbohydrates to Fat and Protein from the "Standard American Diet".

Keto is the most carbohydrate restrictive version of this diet. Most people on a ketogenic diet limit themselves to around 20g of net carbohydrates per day. Net Carbohydrates takes the total carbs and subtracts out carbs from Fiber. So eating high carb foods that are high in fiber is ok - many leafy green vegetables and some nuts like almonds. 20g net is very low considering many people consume 300-500g or more a day of carbs.

And as far as fats go, the key is to eat healthy fats. And this is where people have to go against 30 years of what they think they know about foods. Saturated animal fats are not bad for you, it's the saturated animal fats in conjunction with a gigantic carb load that's bad for you. I eat animal proteins, and stay away from most poly-unsaturated oils like vegetable oil, canola oil and soy oils. I cook with olive oil or coconut oil, both are great alternatives to some of the other oils we've moved to. No margerine, but I do eat butter. With all of these animal products, the grass-fed beef products and butters are the healthier ones - even in the meat sphere, mass production has lead to shortcuts that have made many meats less healthy for you.

The ratio of fat/protein/carb on Keto as a percentage of calories is roughly 65/30/5, though this can vary quite a bit depending on your makeup. (an excellent calculator is located here) This is very different from what most people eat, and it's way different from what I ate before. I thought I was being healthy eating my lean cuisine frozen meals, and low-fat dressings with salads and other low-fat products but I just kept getting fatter and fatter and fatter. The true a-ha moment with this way of life that it's not the fat that was making me fat, it was the carbs.

What I eat: a typical day
My typical meals in a day looks like this: I eat eggs every morning, usually 2 eggs scrambled with 1/3 cup of cheese. I don't cook them in anything but I put salt on them. I add meat some days, and other days I don't.

That gets me through until lunch - which generally consists of whatever meat we had for dinner the night before, a huge salad made with romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula with a low carb olive oil based dressing or a good blue cheese and a couple pieces of string cheese. If I'm at home, I'll make some lettuce wraps with deli meats like roast beef and salami, and some bacon.

Dinner is a meat, usually a decent quantity - and we mix up red meats, chicken, pork and turkey. Some Keto purists stick to skin on chicken but I like my chicken breasts just fine - just need to supplement with additional fats to keep the ratios in check. We pair with a vegetable, cooked in olive oil and a salad with spinach  romaine lettuce, arugula, mixed greens or some combination low carb vegetables or a big salad.

So, to summarize, I can eat most kinds of meat, and I eat a lot of veggies - lots of lettuce and spinach, and broccoli, asparagus and other green vegetebles. I shy away from carrots, green peppers and onions, which are slightly higher in carbs, but I still eat them in moderation. And I completely avoid other root/starchy vegetables like potatoes. And I don't eat any fruit currently, though some berries can be consumed in moderation. Fruit is the thing I miss the most and likely will add back when I get closer to my goal weight.

I don't eat any starches, any grains, any legumes, any processed/refined sugars. This was the biggest dietary adjustment because some form of rice and breads were daily staples in my diet.

Water is also key, I try to drink 128oz of water daily. It's tough some days, but I keep a 32oz Nalgene bottle at my desk at work and usually drink 2-3 of them during the day, with another 32 consumed in the evening. It's much easier to get dehydrated on Keto, I've found.

One challenge is beer. It's not great for me with what I'm trying to do - loads of carbs. I'd already cut my consumption back to a few drinks a week, and I kept drinking for the first few weeks when not on Keto. I've stopped drinking it almost entirely but I still have one or two every couple of weeks, and it hasn't drastically thrown me for a loop. But I'm not going to lie - this a very difficult diet to stay with if you're a craft beer enthusiast who drinks frequently. You can also drink most spirits with diet tonics, which I do on occasion - it doesn't have any carbs in it but the burning of alcohol can slow weight loss and add calories.

Another challenge is going out to eat. When you cede control of the cooking to someone else, inherently there are things that you won't be able to control. At a casual restaurant, a burger without a bun or crazy sauces is still a good option, as is steak or any meat dish that's not cooked in some kind of sugar based glaze. There's always at least a few things on the menu I can eat with modifications to the side dishes or pairing up with a salad. But still, I've had times where it felt really restrictive because so many things are served with carb-laden items even at very nice restaurants.

There are also a lot of low carb "replacement foods" - you've probably seen the atkins stuff they sell in the stores, and artificial sweeteners are a mixed bag. Some people eat them, others don't. There's a lot of different artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols coming onto the market that aren't particularly good for you. Personally, I have a Coke Zero or a Powerade Zero every once in a great while. It hasn't derailed me too badly, but I still tend to shy away from it. I use a sweetener called Stevia which comes in a droplet form on occasion. It's a natural sweetener and it works pretty well to satisfy the sweet tooth. Things taste MUCH sweeter once you've been on Keto for a while since your sensitivity to sweet increases. It's pretty amazing how much sugar dulls your taste buds. But the replacement foods are mostly a waste of time for me because I find that psychologically they tend to hinder my progress.

Other thoughts
One other thing about what I'm doing - I don't like to call this a "diet" in the context that tends implies that it's something I'll do for a period of time and then stop. I prefer to call it a lifestyle - implying that it's something that I plan to sustain. And it's been really sustainable so far. I'm able to eat far fewer calories and not have the cravings or feeling hungry all the time - cutting all the excess carbs out causes you to be able to do that, and I really think that is the key for me. As someone who was likely eating in excess of 3500-4000 calories a day or more sometimes, I'm able to keep my calories generally in the 1500-2000 range, which is below my maintenance calories and allows the weight loss to continue.

The beauty of all this is that I do track my food intake but not nearly as strictly anymore, and you don't really have to pay as much attention to it because you will not be as hungry and you will be able to keep your calories below maintenance a lot easier than with simple calorie restriction alone.

And believe me, I was skeptical that I could do this because I was a carb addict. Sugars, breads, starches were all huge parts of my diet, and a lot of it really hidden in ingredients to mask the fact that low-fat foods taste like crap. Carbs are an addiction like anything else, and they cause so many health issues and dietary problems that I think we're really just scratching the surface. I remember reading Gary Taubes' excellent book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It a few years ago and thinking "there's no way I could ever do that" and here I am doing something even more restrictive and it's not painful in the least.

The food industry doesn't want you to eat this way because it's more difficult for them to mass produce fresh foods that can't be stored for long periods of time. But I really believe it's a direction we need to go to reduce obesity and other epidemic health issues in this country. And from the looks of it more people are signing up.

If you're interested in this diet, feel free to reach out to me, I'm happy to help you along or answer questions. I really appreciated others that have been there for me, like my friend Dez, who has lost 90 pounds on Keto and he's been an amazing inspiration.

Last - some resources if you're interested:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review of Fever self hosted RSS web reader

I talked about the Google Reader demise a few weeks ago, and the search is on for a replacement. In an attempt to assess the current solutions, I'm going to write a couple of posts about the different ones I've been trying. One of the intriguing near term solutions (available today) is Fever, a self hosted web based solution. Several geekier types in my social circles had already switched to this prior to the Google Reader announcement, and it works somewhat seamlessly with the Reeder app for the iPhone, which I was a heavy user of with Google Reader.

The self-hosting part of Fever is a bit of a challenge for me, seeing as I did away with my hosting a few years ago because I didn't have the time or wherewithal to continue to deal with it.

I stumbled across this 2010 post from MacStories which motivated me to try it out - seemed low risk and relatively inexpensive, and in the near term, I wouldn't have to deal with the crushing load on some of the other alternatives. So I took the plunge and installed it on a Nearly Free Speech instance. It took a little bit longer than 10 minutes, but not much.

I'm pretty happy with it so far. The web interface is slick and well designed with keyboard shortcuts for just about everything you could possibly do in the program. It has a sharing interface with a few key services built in and the ability to add more as long as they support a share link (I was able to add Google+ in a few minutes and it's as seamless as Reader was). This is key, as I want to be able to add services besides Twitter and Facebook and most other services don't bother or give you the interface.

You can set it up through cron to refresh feeds periodically as well - this was easy on my host as they have a GUI to add scheduled commands. I'm not 100% clear on if it's working all the time, but it does seem to usually come back with feeds somewhat updated if I haven't visited for a while. The downside if you don't do this is that you'll wait for the feeds to refresh for a few minutes if you don't have anything cached already. This is particularly noticeable on the iPhone clients. I think you could also just leave it up in a browser window on a running computer and it would refresh every 10-15 minutes.

I'm Feeling Kind of Warm
While Fever can be used as a straight feed reader a la Google Reader, it's unique feature is that it bubbles up hot topics into a Hot List using a degree scale based on the temperature of the human body (hence the name "Fever"). It does this by dividing feeds into two groups - the Kindling and the Sparks. Kindling are your must read feeds, and Sparks are other feeds that you'd want to influence your Hot list but not necessairily read all the time. I haven't used this feature much yet and haven't added any sparks - Gabe over at MacDrifter tries to quantify this feature and his review is worth a read if you're considering Fever.

Some of the suggestions for using sparks I've seen elsewhere include putting mostly link blogs there, or putting a feed from Pinboard or Instapaper or other services there. It's something I may or may not get to, but as some of the other reviews point out, it's not necessary to use Sparks to use the service mostly as a straight reader.

Mobile Devices with Fever
Shaun Inman, the Fever developer, is a Mac/iOS/Web guy so there's no support for Android devices - a showstopper if you're an Android user. He admits this in his Google Reader fallout post (a few other caveats there to be aware of as well - he's full time on another project right now so his support is minimal). I'm currently an iOS user, so no issues there. I hooked it up to Reeder on my iPhone and also bought Sunstroke, another iPhone only Fever client.

Both Reeder and Sunstroke are good clients - Reeder is the same experience on Fever as it is on the Google Reader back-end (except it takes longer to refresh if you don't set up the aforementioned cron job). Sunstroke handles the Fever specific features of the Hot List better than Reeder, but that's the only major difference.

Sadly, there is no viable native iPad client.  The iPad Reeder app is not compatible with Fever yet - it's due for a refresh and I'm sure that might get pushed out a bit as the developer of that product figures out what else he can use as a back-end with Reader's demise. Adding Fever functionality to this client would be a great solution for me in the short term. The web interface is passable in Safari on iOS, but this is definitely a gap that I would run into sometimes. I'm hoping with Reader's demise that we get more apps that will hook into Fever's API as an option, but I'm realistic in that this will probably never be a big enough userbase for some clients to support.

Fever is not for the casual user, or for someone that doesn't have any server side self hosting experience. But I don't have tons and I was able to figure it out, and once you set it up, there's nothing terribly technical about maintaining it. The host I'm currently using is inexpensive, at the most I should have to pay a dollar or two to self host. I'm planning on firing up full service hosting at some point in the next year and I'll move it over there if I'm still using it.

Fever is also probably not a good idea if you're a heavy consumer of feeds on your iPad, at least until a native client comes along.

If you primarily consume on your desktop and iPhone, though, this is a viable solution - which you will not have to worry about scaling or going away anytime soon. It's in your complete control.

I'm going to keep using it while continuing to check out other services. I'll write up the other two services I'm trying, Newsblur and The Old Reader, in the coming days. I'm also intrigued by Feed Wrangler, which should launch in the next few months.