Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

Guns and Gun Violence

In the last few weeks the national fervor around guns and violent acts, mass shootings, has hit a fever pitch.  In Florida, there was yet another school shooting where seventeen kids were killed.  That number is so frightening in itself it’s pretty difficult to explain.  One kid is way too many, and everyone seems to agree on this.

Yet we can’t seem to agree on logical policy to stem these events from happening.  The NRA advocates for very liberal laws that prop up the ability of citizens to buy and own firearms.  They have immense funding, lobbying power and influence.  It seems that any time one of these events happens, and it’s often here in the US, the push back on coming up with ways to stop them is just as strong as the sorrow, maybe more so.  Many US citizens are more serious about keeping guns than any other political issue.

I believe owning guns is acceptable as a form of recreation–hunting and whatnot.  The idea that assault rifles are available to the general public has always seemed silly to me.  I realize most people would never use these weapons in a harmful way, but the few people that would make availability a serious risk to the rest of us.  So they should go.  That’s probably not the most popular opinion with some people, but it’s how I feel.  The safety of our kids and general citizenship is paramount to people’s hobby.

More important than my personal view is the idea of a middle ground.  The NRA is not willing to give up an inch on this — they actually ask for less stringent laws.  As to why, I’m not sure, but this country needs to find our common values and build policy toward them.  The idea that everything is black and white is wrong, the world is mostly grey.

But this issue is a real one–17 kids just died for no reason.  This doesn’t happen in other first world countries and it’s an embarrassment that our priorities aren’t on human lives.

A Wrinkle In Time

My brother in law had recommended A Wrinkle In Time to me a few months back.  Having been in the midst of reading my 4th book on climate change, it seemed like a good time to take a break for some lighter reading.  It was worthwhile.

A Wrinkle In Time is the story of a young girl whose father has gone missing.  Her little brother and herself are beset by some mysterious strangers over the course of a few days and it sets in motion a journey across the cosmos to save their father.  It’s a fun, and intriguing look at the world through the eyes of youth.  It is a quick story to read, probably 4-5 hours worth if your a slower reader like myself.

The book is part of a five part series, which I purchased, and intend to read over time.  Last year and this year I’ve been reading a lot more children’s stories (Watership Down, Chronicles of Narnia, Hatchet, etc.) as a way to lighten my concern over more serious matters.  Eventually I’d like to introduce Juniper to all of these stories; I can only hope to instill a love for reading with her early as it’s such a powerful force in ones life if embraced.  If that doesn’t work I’ll probably bribe her, that’s been having a good effect on potty training.  Economists have it right on the incentive angle.

If you’re looking for some fun reading, this book is a good offering.  It was also a steal, I got the set of five books for $14 on Amazon; however it looks as though it’s now up to $30.  Guess I got in before the Disney commercials for the new movie got everyone interested in purchasing.

February Cold Snap

Winter of 2018 has been a pretty cold one.  It’s had ups and downs, but the last few weeks have been pretty frigid.  I just picked up a small cold and the flu has been making it’s rounds all over.  January is generally the toughest part of the year in Minny due to the cold and the fact that all the fun holiday things are past.  February is not much better for similar reasons, but you can see the corner your about to turn; it’s a short month and March undoubtedly has some warm weather to offer.

Something to look forward to, for certain.

This is the time of year to hole up and watch some movies.  We’ve been watching the Three Flavour’s Cornetto Trilogy as of late, two down and one to go.  Highly recommended.

Today is tax day, Teresa, Juni and I are headed to the tax man in an hour.  Hopefully he’s kind.  I like to get that sort of thing out of the way as soon as possible.  Depending on outcome we may start looking at remodeling the downstairs bathroom in the Spring.

Not a great deal to report outside of that.  The days are short and cold, the nights long and fun.  Life goes on.

Best Music of 2017

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about music.  There’s a good reason for that, this last year has been filled with far more podcasts than ever before.  The majority of it has been industry focused, learning as much as possible about the electricity industry in the US, but some has been basketball (all the more fun when the Timberwolves are playing like a playoff team).

So this year may be a tougher top ten list than previous years.  Here’s a list of albums from last year that I enjoyed more than any others:

10.  Hippo Campus, Landmark  – This is a local indy band that has been putting out some really nice EPs prior to this year.  Landmark is their first full fledged LP and it was a really well done album.  They have a unique sound, oriented around the vocal stylings of their lead and upbeat, light and feathery guitars.  This was one of the better indy rock releases of the year, IMO.  Definitely worth checking out.

9.  John Prine, Sweet Revenge – Every year I need to mention that this list isn’t just “new” music, it’s whatever caught my attention and warrants mention.  John Prine’s best years were before my time, but I saw him with my father in law this Fall in Duluth and he hasn’t lost a beat.  He played for near two hours and sounded absolutely perfect on the guitar, with great singing too.  This is the second of his albums I’ve spent a lot of time with.  At this point it seems fairly obvious to me he was one of the best song writers of his era, perhaps all American music.  Songs like “Christmas in Prison” and “Blue Umbrella” are absolute perfection.  It’s very difficult to describe what is so compelling about good songwriters, but when you find them it’s a truly great thing.  Prine is one of them, still shining.

8.  Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm – Another really good album from Waxahatchee.  Heavier guitars and a bit more production on much of this, but she’s simply getting better and better at executing her visions musically.  A faster, stronger showing than the last mean she is evolving.  Lyrically it sticks with you.

7.  Lexie, Record Time! – A side project of Gretchen Kline of Frankie Cosmos fame, this is a smaller EP with another male vocalist.  It sounds like music written and recorded in two friends’ bedroom–but in a really good way.  It’s light, but fun and keeps you engaged.  It’s over before you know it but there’s enough to make it a really good EP.  This might not be on my list however everything Gretchen touches is pretty high up on my list right now.  She’s fantastic!  I’m excited to see what they do for the next FC record.

6.  Sufjan Stevens, The Greatest Gift – It’s odd, but this remix from his last effort has hit a deeper chord with me than the first effort (though that really was an excellent record, it was just too sad to listen to).  This is a more upbeat remix of many of the songs, with more electronic influence and a confluence of different sounds overlaying tracks.  It’s much more listenable and fun, despite the subject matter still being somewhat dire.  Sufjan has shown repeatedly how he can create beautiful music in different styles and this is no different.

5.  Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – This year I made a concerted effort to listen to more hip hop, which hadn’t been as high on my radar the last few years.  The main reason was that indy and folk rock had kind of taken over, and then another album came out which blew my mind (read on) which led to a domino effect of picking up more albums like this one.  Out of all the top ten albums, this actually might be the best album overall.  It’s incredibly well produced, the beats are infectious, the wordplay and performances from Kanye and all his guests are very good.  Justin Vernon helps on a few tracks which are just mind bending.  I listened to this album a ton and despite Mr. West being a little off kilter to me personality wise, he does create really good music.  This is probably his best album.

4.  Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice – A duet performance from two excellent young performers, Lotta Sea Lice is a bluesy tribute to one another and the life they’ve chosen in rock and roll.  It’s a pretty slow burn, with many songs taking their sweet time getting to their destination.  It’s a great “lazy day” type of album where there isn’t much going on.  This album took me quite a few rotations to really hit home, but when it does, good luck getting it out of your head.  Best tracks are “Fear Is Like A Forest” and “Blue Cheese”

3.  Kendrick Lamar, Damn. – This was the spark that made me think I was missing a great deal in hip hop.  Kendrick Lamar’s Damn is truly a master work for hip hop, one of the best albums in the genre I’ve ever heard.  In highschool and college much of my time with music was spent on indy rap (Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Sage Francis, etc.) and although when those artists put music out it’s still good, it had been a long time since an album really grabbed me.  This is not indy rap, it’s mainstream, but it deserves all the credit it gets.  Kendrick’s writing and flow are really impressive, and unique, he’s a story teller and keeps these conceptual ideas recurring in time and genuinely makes you think.  You can’t really ask for more.

2.  Alvvays, Antisocialites – Two years ago this band came out with their self titled album and it got my top pick of the year.  This follow up was similarly great, I’d had it as my favorite album initially with the start of this list, but ended up relenting and going with another that just had a little more.  This is a tremendous sophomore effort, it’s really tough to top a great opening LP but they’ve done it.  Alvvays is mostly dream pop but can swing up or down tempo if needed.  This album is about a half hour and is similar to the last in that it uses synths and relies heavily on their lead singer’s capability to captivate.  She’s even better here than initially, with some fun curveballs for listeners to keep them on their toes.  The bottom line is that this album is easily one of the better options 2017 had to offer.  If you like pop music at all, this is a must.

1.  Conor Oberst, Salutations – This album was a dark horse.  Last year Oberst dropped a piano, harmonica and vocal only offering which was very good, but this album is a reprise of that with a backing band, many more songs and changes to the core way of playing them.  Based on that, it’s pretty difficult to imagine it having enough to get top billing, but it did.  The album just has too many good songs that stuck with me.  It ended up getting the number one spot on “value” instead of simply outclassing the other albums.  It got a ton of rotations, and Oberst is quite simply one of the best songwriters alive.  That’s high praise as Dylan, Young, Prine and a number of others are still ticking, but he’s that good.  He doesn’t write spectacular songs that blow you away with their intricacy, he writes songs that you can’t ignore due to their simplicity and truth.  There’s a lot to unpack in any of his albums, and that’s a very good thing for all of us.

This was a good year for music, but not a great one.  There just weren’t enough albums that really broke through.  That said, there’s always many diamonds in the past if you’re willing to dig!

Merry Christmas! …And 2018 New Years Resolutions

Today is Christmas Day.  Today is a special Christmas for our family because it’s the first where Juniper really knows what’s happening.  Last night Santa stopped by and dropped off some gifts for her:  a new book, some small carved wooden animals, and a cupcake.  She also got a small trampoline from us, which she seems to really like.

We have the fireplaces going, it’s a high of single digits outside and there are no plans to go anywhere.  Teresa and Juniper are watching a movie in the other room and I’m finally getting around to writing a post.  Charlie Brown’s Christmas is playing now on my computer.  Christmas really is one of the best days of the year, and the month is definitely one of my favorite aspects of Minnesota.

It has taken me the better part of an hour to get this started as my computer is obviously in need of replacement, nothing seems to run smoothly any longer.  That’s alright, I’ve had it many years and next year I’ll get another.  This post actually may be significantly shorter than previous years simply due to the computer not cooperating.  If that’s the case I’ll come back and explain things a little more in depth once I get a replacement.

This year we’ll be in Florida for NYE and a bit longer, so I’m going to write my resolutions now.  First I’ll look at last year’s however–including a quick grade:

Goal #1:  Become Educated On Climate Change.  A-:  I’ve read 3.5 books on the subject and learned a great deal through other consumption of content based on my job, as well as some other areas.  I feel much more knowledgeable than last year at this time, but still have a long way to go.

Goal #2:   More Family Time.  B:  Still learning how to do this given different likes and dislikes in our household, but better than a year ago, certainly.

Goal #3:  Cut Down Vulgar Vocabulary.  B+:  Definite improvement over last year, however probably need swear less at work too.  I’ve really cut down at home and am cognizant of what I’m saying around Juni much more, but still not perfect.  Old habits die hard.

Goal #4:   Get To Some New Places.  A-:  We are headed to Florida in a few days, which will be great.  We also did new trips to San Diego and the Bay Area this last year, so mission accomplished.

Generally last year went how I’d hoped in terms of goals.  There were a lot of other awesome changes last year though, some around exercise and fitness.  I’ve began working out much more regularly while at work, as well as conditioning my diet during the day really well.  Protein shakes for lunch has been a great change for me, about 5 minutes to make lunches for two days, they taste great and are a good amount of calories.  Podcasts on the way to work and back have allowed me to learn much more about my industry and other things I’d formerly not heard about.  This has come at the cost of listening to more music (a post on 2017 albums is coming!) but that’s probably a fair trade.

I’m a big believe in writing down goals–in business, in life in general and especially anywhere you want to make progress.  If you don’t take the time to build a plan, you’ll likely not accomplish what you want to do.  A good plan starts with objectives.  Good objectives need to be measurable.  If you write down your goals and plan to accomplish them every year (or in smaller increments of time) you will be very likely to accomplish them.  At that point it’s just following your plans, and adjusting if needed.

To that end, here’s a quick look at what I’d like to focus on in 2018:

1.  Lower caffeine levels:  This is a little odd, but it’s an important one.  As you get older you recognize behaviors of yourself that aren’t necessarily appealing.  I’ve noticed when I’m over-caffeinated from coffee in the morning it increases the likelihood of speaking out of turn, making jokes when not needed, and so on.  Nothing terrible of course, but the caffeine simply makes me a little more apt to say things outside of what I’d like to communicate.  So the limit here is two cups of coffee per day.  I’ve already started, it’s not hard, but it regulates the amount of caffeine and that’s a good thing.

2.  Internalize ideas and thought processes prior to stating them:  In business school, there are terms for students being more quantitative (quants) and those more prone to speaking and external interaction (poets).  I definitely fall into the latter category.  It’s a simple framework to categorize people, and it’s not really fair, as any one person can be good at multiple things, but generally personality types tend to fall into one or the other.

There are good and “less good” aspects of being in either category, particularly when dealing with someone that tends to be of the other group.  Quants are simply more likely to enjoy working with numbers and internalizing ideas and thoughts.  They like things finite and measurable.  Poets are usually OK with ambiguity and gravitate toward qualitative ideas and tend to “think out loud” more than the quants.  In business, you have to know your numbers–there’s no getting around that.  You also need to communicate effectively.

“Thinking out loud” is not a good strategy for communication with people.  It’s actually pretty good for ideation and deriving something “new” — but those are really limited circumstances.  I have worked with and currently work with many more internal thinkers.  Thinking out loud isn’t a good practice in business, I’ve concluded, and I’m going to focus on keeping my thoughts internal until they’re complete.  I’ve actually been doing this a lot over the years, but wanted to make it a particular focus in 2018.

3.  Carve out more time for my daughter:  This one is hard to quantify, but I think last year I made some strides in terms of spending time with Juni.  Truthfully she’s much more interested in hanging out with Mom at this point, which is great.  But I’d like her to understand that I’m always there for her and that starts with spending more time with her doing hobbies such as painting, swim lessons, taking bike rides, and anything else that puts a smile on her face.

4. Continue efforts to learn and add value at work:  Every year is a big year.  This is my third year at my current employer and it would be really easy to settle in and not have the same sense of urgency.  That will lead to becoming bored and not helping us to grow how we need to.  Last year I spent a lot of time learning about the electricity system the in US, how everything is regulated, and all the companies in the space.  I’m going to double down on that effort in 2018 after finalizing the books I’ve yet to finish on climate change.  There’s A LOT to learn, but it’s a lot of fun too.  This will be more of a qualitative measure for me, but still important.

That’s about it for 2018.  There are always financial and fitness goals on my radar too, but they are somewhat cliche and not necessarily needed to be reiterated every year.

Cheers to you and yours in the new year, hope you have an amazing holiday season!

Tiring of Humans and Our Own Greed

Just now on Twitter I saw a note from Ed Yong on polar bears starving to death.  It was a tweet with a video, the video still showed a bear obviously in death throes; it looked like a white fur skeleton.  I couldn’t watch the video.  It hurts too much to watch animals suffer like that.

The other day on Twitter I saw a young man in a hotel being yelled at by a police officer on video to walk crawl toward him.  The young man was crying, scared for his life.  The police officer was extremely, profoundly frightening.  It’s his job to be safe and make sure the person cannot do them harm.  The way he addresses the young man is terrifying–he has a semi automatic weapon pointed at him, barking orders.  As he is crawling toward the officer, he reaches back, seemingly to grab at his pants.  It happens quickly.  The police officer shoots him three times and kills him.  It seems completely illogical and wrong.  The kid had no weapons.  All I can think is that this young man likely was in a situation he shouldn’t have been, lord knows what, but that can happen to kids.  He killed him.

The saddest aspect of these things is that it’s just us.  It’s the human race, choosing what’s OK and what’s not.

I’m not OK with continuing to burn fossil fuels at large scale and kill off animals and environments.

I’m not OK with police using lethal force without clear and present danger.

I’m not OK these things, but the truth is they’ve been happening a lot longer than Twitter.  We’re just seeing them now.

It’s pretty difficult to be upbeat about the future for my family when you see these things.  But we have to keep fighting for it, regardless.

Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice

One of my large goals for the year was to get a better understanding of climate change and the potential impacts coming toward our civilization in time.  One avenue for pursuing that is to read books, which I’ve spent the last five months or so doing.  The first book was Climate of Hope from Carl Pope and Mike Bloomberg.  Next was the Michael Mann book with comics interspersed.  The newest book is Understanding Climate Change, which I knew when purchasing was going to be one of the more scientifically focused reads.

This was an excellent primer for normal folks (like me!) who aren’t really educated in the scientific realm on the actual rigor of scientific evaluation.   It’s not an easy read.  It’s kind of hard, actually.  Spending hours learning about albedo and the natural systems of earth and how we are directly or indirectly altering them, and how it’s captured as data, is not necessarily my idea of a fun night at home.  But it’s important, and people spend their lives learning how to do these things, I’d like to understand it at face value.  Conceptually understanding what people are talking about, without having to know the intricacies of the practice, will get you a long way.

I stumbled across the book due to listening to Chris Nelder’s Energy Transition Show when Sara Harris was a guest.  She was teaching about the carbon cycle and spoke about the different reactions of molecules in the atmosphere.  And as I sat in my car driving home, listening to her eloquent explanations of science, it struck me how smart she was and that anything more I could learn from her would be of value.  She partners with Sarah Burch on this and they put together a really thorough book on climate change.

The book itself is a holistic approach to the issue at hand–humans burning fossil fuels and adding carbon dioxide, as well as other harmful greenhouse gasses, to the atmosphere at a rate that has not been seen in our anthopogenic, or human, timeline.  Yes, the climate is always changing.  But we are accelerating the amount of these gasses very quickly in such a way that increases the stock of carbon dioxide to a level that will increase temperatures consistently over time.  Right now we are likely locked in to a hotter future, but it’s tough to say just how hot.  Probably two degrees at the minimum, potentially six degrees or even more.

No big deal right?  Six degrees warmer, that would be great here in Minnesota!  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Those six degrees (or even the two degrees) will have incredible impacts on human civilization.  The sea level will raise.  Cities like New York, Boston, LA and countless other cities on coastlines or low lying island nations will be in extreme danger at all times and potentially be swallowed by a new ocean rising.  The oceans will continue to acidify, killing off the coral reefs and limiting the amount of habitable places for innumerable species of ocean life.  The same will happen on land.  Small tweaks to the system result in bullwhip effect displacement.  That displacement isn’t just nonhuman animals; the most populous areas for humans are the coasts.  Where do you think these people will go?  A refugee crisis is unavoidable with these kinds of alterations to environments, and with such a crisis comes more and more conflict across borders.

The heat will have extreme impact on our ability to grow crops and create food.  It will expand the potential for viral infection from previously uninhabitable landscapes now welcoming carriers (zika is a great example of something that has been isolated to tropical areas but would expand significantly.)  Less food, medicine, shelter, and more potential for disease and strife.  It’s like a direct attack on Maslow’s Hierarchy.

I won’t go on.  There are many, many other impacts that will severely limit human civilization’s ability to exist in the same fashion.  This is literally an existential threat.

That’s a big deal and it scares the you-know-what out of people.  It becomes easy to look the other way and forget about it.  But it’s our kids, our grandkids and their offspring that will be left the tab.  We have to get serious about this and we can’t rely on others to do it for us.

This book did a great job explaining the concepts around climate change in a way that is scientifically accurate.  It delves into how to combat it lightly, and explains some new paths forward.  Read it for a good cover on the actual science.  To get a handle on the sociopolitical areas for how to impact, there are other primers.

Next steps for me are considering how to adapt to this threat within or without our existing systems.  Many will tell you that we are politically incapable of meaningful change in the face of such a threat.  I don’t believe that, but do see the difficulty.  The next book on my docket is all about climate change versus capitalism.  Hopefully I can finish before the end of the year.

Winterization

In Minnesota a good deal of time is spent tending to the changes in weather.

During the spring you typically clean the inside and outside of the house, mostly due to being cooped up during colder months.  It’s just part of what you do as the weather warms up, open the windows and clean.  There is typically a lot of rain at that time too, which actually melts any leftover snow and cleans up some of the dirt lingering around.

That rain transitions to summer and the grass grows very swiftly initially.  It needs cutting and the trees need trimming.  It isn’t a lot of work, but it keeps you busy enough during weekends.  During the latter part of summer sometimes there will be a lack of rain and the need to trim and cut the lawn stops; however lately that hasn’t been the case.

The fall comes slowly and leaves abruptly here.  The late August early September timeframe is truly a wonderful experience and the peak fall season is really captivating.  Trees turn different shades and meld together into a melting pot of natural beauty, only to last a few days or at most a week.  Experiencing that aspect of life here alone is probably worth all the cold.

Yet the winter itself has its own treasure to offer.  Preparing for it takes time and thought.  Cleaning out the gutters and bagging the leaves.  Placing outdoor amenities inside or under coverings so as to limit their wear.  Putting plastic on the windows to limit the heat loss out of the house.  Rearranging the garage for cleanliness so as to hinder any need to do so when the cold sets in.  The list goes on.

All of these things are ritualistic.  They create a sense of comfort both in their outcomes and the actual recurring nature of the actions.  Winterizing is part of life here.  As is spring cleaning, summer maintenance, fall yard work and everything in between.  Keeping the grounds means keeping a rhythm.

Thank Yous

Time to say thanks.

Thanks to everyone in my life who has helped me to be the person I am, and is helping me become a better person.

Thanks to my wife, I love you and everything you do for our family.  You are everything to me.

Thanks to my daughter–hope springs eternal and Juniper is a walking embodiment of great things to come.

Thank you to my parents for teaching me everything about hard work and what it means to be a good person.  Sometimes life feels really mixed up and I miss Alexandria–thanks for your past and ongoing support.

Thanks to all the people I work with, it’s amazing to be a part of a team leading in the industry and learning how to make a real impact.  Thanks to the people that lead the company and create an environment for us to thrive, it’s not easy but I recognize the hard work you are doing.

Thanks to all my friends for being there.

Thanks to my dogs, because they are unquestionably the best companions you can have.  :-)

Thanks for reading, you certainly don’t have to.

Thanks for your understanding, this year has been a good one overall but fraught with stress in other ways and sometimes I’m not the best version of myself.  Work in progress.

I’ll leave the thanks at that, just know that you are appreciated.  Every day you may make someone’s life better simply by talking to them and being there.  Embrace that.  Embrace your family next weekend, I know I’ll be doing that.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

The Year of the Podcast

2017 has been filled with a lot of audio.  I’d never really listened to podcasts before starting my job at Mortenson, and did so to learn about the industry I work in.  There are a number of podcasts about energy, and the first one that hooked me was The Energy Gang, which is really well produced, topical and interesting.  The hosts discuss topics happening in the industry and some outside of it, while peppering in interviews with different folks and perspectives.

That podcast alone taught me a great deal about energy and the economics surrounding it.  But I didn’t stop there.  Podcasts are really interesting in that when done well

they are somewhat addictive.  Like a great television show or new hobby, you gravitate toward it again and again.  I expanded my list of podcasts, most of them work related but a few sports related for entertainment as well.  I love basketball and listening to podcasts on that is better than TV in my opinion.
All of this audio is on the way to and then back from work, or sometimes during mowing the lawn or a road trip to see my parents in Alexandria or Teresa’s in Cloquet.  It truly is edutainment at it’s finest.

The only issue I have is that my time spent listening to music has gone down.  I still buy albums but don’t repeat them as often.  They tend to come in and go out of my life faster than previous years, and that’s kind of an issue because many albums take a lot of listens to really resonate with you.   Right now I’m listening to Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s new LP, it’s slower and bluesy to an extent, but it’s well done.  This is the type of album you have to “learn” to really appreciate; the music is good but it’s not something that hooks you immediately.

Many, many things have changed for me this year, which I’ll probably update more during my December end of year or new years resolutions posts.  I’ve started some really good habits this year, and podcasts are only one of them.  But I do wonder if music listening is going to suffer, or will this be a temporary change?  Time will tell, as with all things.  Hope fall is treating you well.

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