Brewing Better Ideas

Crazy ideas. That’s what drives me.

And beer. Particularly brewing beer.

Oh and the intersection where retail meets technology.

And my family.

Ok a lot of things.

Hence this post.

Last Father’s Day, my wife retained her throne as “best wife”. She took me to a home brew class, and we bought a kit. It’s one of those things that you think is a cheap hobby, and then you realize how much better you could do it with XYZ. But it’s ok, because it’s “cheaper” than buying a case of craft beer. It was an awesome experience that did exactly what it was supposed to do – make me buy stuff.

And that’s where it started.

I could talk about brewing for awhile, but that’s not what this post is about. The only tip I have for you when it comes to brewing, is don’t try to tell your wife you sanitized the bottles when you know you forgot to….

At any rate, Northern Brewer is poised for an excellent opportunity for growth, and some fun ways to do so.

Right now, they have three locations: two in the Twin Cities, and one in Milwaukee. Not a bad start, but craft beer is exploding right now all across the US. Brewing at home is a nice little tag-along for those of us who want to be better beer snobs, too. Northern also has a pretty good web presence, and I imagine their distribution does well out of their Roseville warehouse.

My guess is that the next step by default is to move to new markets. Chicago, Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, somewhere in Vermont, Boulder, Austin, and then probably the big cities like New York and LA. Big cities are hard though, but I’ve got an idea about that in a bit. With the expanded location base, some math should be done about if having a higher level of inventory at the retail locations is worth it. Why? Because each one could also be a mini distribution center for the online sales.

Plus, now a days, everyone is getting on the “order online and pick up in store” bandwagon. And why not? Multichannel sales is the next step for retail. Just look at Apple – they changed with their most recent head of retail hire, but it went mostly unnoticed. Angela Ahrendts left being CEO of Burberry to be Vice President of Retail and Online Stores. Notice that last little bit? She’s in charge of every place you can buy an Apple product – online or in person. Time to make them work together.

And with this fun expansion, how on earth do you control the growth? For a “grocery” store, the technology part is always the most challenging. Which is why you make it a store-in-a-box. Build the standard network (yet independent of connectivity type), hardware and software, box it all up, and send an installer to get the work done. Make the systems cloud based (and remain PCI compliant, of course), so that the reliance on internal systems are minimal. iPads as POS systems work great. Why? Because if/when one breaks, I bet you’re close to an Apple Store that can swap it out, or have a spare ready. It’s still cheaper than a standard NCR or other traditional POS system, and expanding the number of terminals is drastically cheaper than the traditional model. You skip out on all the fun wired networking, gain flexibility on physical location choices, and the hardware spend is less.

But, don’t be stupid. You’re relying on good connectivity as the backbone, so don’t fuck it up. Build in back ups. There are perfect branch routers that have the ability to provide 3G/4G failover for when the main connectivity goes down. Cheap. Effective. And, a requirement if you ask me. Also? Backup power, a good app developer and a management platform that gives you the ability to remotely support your end users easily. Wait. Check that. An excellent app developer who is truly your partner.

Sidebar – I went to a great liquor store (apparently my world does revolve around beer) that has a ton of craft stuff, and a build your own six pack that is beyond compare. But, they lost their internet connection while I was shopping, so it was a cash-only moment. I can’t remember the last time I had cash on me. So, I put my bottles back and was quite bummed. The store lost my $20, along with at least three other customers that I saw walk out.

But beyond mere physical expansion to “craft beer cities”, there are some other ways to more fully develop the home brew culture.

I’m pretty lucky to work with some amazingly interesting folks, and it helps keep me thinking about solutions and how randomness sometimes aligns.

When I started brewing at home, my wife happily participated. She still does. But, my two little kids want to help too. And my basement isn’t exactly temperature controlled. And my sink isn’t the best for the massive amounts of use it gets on brew days. And time without disturbing it is hard in our small house.

What’s amazing is we live in a nice little suburb, in a decent house, not unlike most other home brewers.

But then there’s my brother. He started brewing years before I did, but he lives in what I assume is a typical New York City place. There isn’t the luxury of our yards, storage space, but they have their (far superior) mass transit.

So what the hell am I talking about? A recent trend in small business and the startup community is working cooperative spaces. CoCo is a great example of it in the Minneapolis area. They have hundreds of members – some are individuals, some are teams, but they get to use shared resources like internet, printing, physical office space, and the ever important power of collaboration through happenstance.

Now take that idea, apply it to brewing, and put it in a densely populated area. Imagine a warehouse where you could rent space to brew, and rent controlled storage. For you brewers out there, how sweet would it be to have a lager room? It’d also potentially lower the cost of entry for folks to try brewing. You have your brew session, move it into the fermenting room(s), come back for second fermenting, or take advantage of a shared bottling line. Northern could also have “emergency supplies” vended at the location, so if you’re an idiot like me and constantly forget priming sugar, then you pay a premium, but you can get the job done without a trip elsewhere. Plus, shared cleaning locations, high powered gas burners, shared wort chillers, kettles, and anything that you’d need. Sure you can bring your own, or you can rent what you’d like.

Lets not forget the community part, too. My wife and I chat with my brother about brewing, but it’d be awesome if we could talk to someone who was also brewing at the same time and get their ideas. And part of that community is the responsibility for not being idiots and cleaning the crap out of everything. It’d also provide an excellent venue for more workshops, home brew tasting competitions, and who knows what else.  Staff it daily from 10-7, and provide extended hours for those who want to pay for premium access.

There are probably a thousand ways to do it, but a cooperative home brew location would be something I’d love to see.

Oh, and one more thing. Why aren’t home brew carboys made out of brown glass? Light = bad, right?

Then again, Minnesotans can’t even buy beer on Sundays.


Foursquare For Some Reason

It’s 6:45am on a Sunday, and as my kids play, I wander the internet in search for something that I should know more about. This morning, I found something, but it isn’t entirely pertinent to me, so I offer it up to you.

Foursquare advertising.

Boring, I know. But my thoughts were more about how to not make it boring, and potentially interesting. My team is mostly field staff, and our physical presence has very little to do with who we are or what we do. Our headquarters in the North Loop of Minneapolis, a few blocks from Target Field. But my idea here is more applicable in an office tower or dense office space.

The land of downtown is an amazing, skyway connected labyrinth that only “downtowners” really get. Being the land of corporate headquarters (and not necessarily places that people need to come visit – like retail), then how could you use Foursquare ads to your advantage?

Now, before we think about doing a Foursquare ad just for the hell of it, let’s see if it’s actually valuable. Naturally, the answer is it always depends. There’s no reason for Target Headquarters to have a check-in special. I guess they could, but the people visiting HQ are already committed – they’re the employees, contractors and vendors. Plus, what is the benefit for me if I’m walking by and see an ad for Target HQ? Am I just going to randomly drop in and say hi to the receptionist and security guards? Uh. No. Thanks, though.

An important thing to note is that the ads do not show to people who are checked in to the location.

And here in lies my idea.

Have you ever driven by an apartment complex that has a gigantic and gawdy banner that exclaims that “IF YOU LIVED HERE, YOU’D BE HOME ALREADY”? Yeah, I hate them too, but they have a point, and answer an interesting challenge that we all have with commuting and the unending banality that is rush hour traffic. I’d argue that was a good old world example of location based advertising. So let’s explore something similar in a digital vein.

One of the big challenges with the land of corporate headquarters is recruiting, and keeping, good talent. If I were at Target HQ and I had just posted a job (on the massive and insane to control job board) for a marketing person for example, how would I get it to the people who might be interested? Well, if you want to hire someone who understands mobility, they generally participate in it. If you want someone who understands corporate culture, they’re probably living in the labyrinth already. So why not? Post a Foursquare ad not with some American Express special for buying the latest doohicky, but how ’bout “IF YOU WORKED HERE, WELL, YOU’D BE HERE”. Obviously the wording needs some help, but you get the idea. In a dense urban area with lots of HQ’s, it could be an interesting opportunity for folks who want to hire in the fields of marketing, advertising, IT, and well probably a lot of other areas.

But who knows. Maybe I’m crazy.

Well, yeah, I probably am. But at the same time, the ads are free unless a user takes action. Why not give it a shot?


Koken in the Wild

Last week, a new platform was released for photographers, videographers, and artists. It’s called Koken.

Being the perennial tinkerer that I am, I thought I’d give it a whirl. To be fair, I wouldn’t call myself a developer. Not even a quasi-developer. I’d categorize myself as knowledgeably dangerous and obviously unknowledgable. Ok, so I’m a bit wiser than some on the web, but I’m not quitting my day job.

My voyage for these types of projects (like developing a new WordPress site) generally begins with developing locally so that I don’t need to invest in a big development environment. So, I headed to the Koken site and found the tech specs. At first glance, I thought “hot damn, I’m in.”  Mainly because I saw the need for PHP and MySQL and ignored the rest.

Herein lies the rub.

Apparently I can’t read. I missed the part about needing ImageMagick installed. I’d never heard of it before, so naturally, I hit up the Googles. (One thing I have learned is that I am a professional Googler.)

The documentation for ImageMagick seemed pretty straightforward. “Use MacPorts, it’ll be easiest*.” So I did. Then I realized I hadn’t had MacPorts installed on my laptop which I was working on. So I started that process:

• Download installer

• Run installer

• Realize I need Xcode installed

• Install Xcode

• Install Command Line Tools (In Xcode, Preferences->Downloads)

• Realize I need X11

• Headed over to XQuartz for an X11 download and install

• Log out and back in from my user to start the service

Ok. So by getting Xcode and X11 taken care of, now I had MacPorts installed (which, in the end is unnecessary). Sweet. So, I go back to the ImageMagick installation guide and read through it one more time. I had downloaded the zip file already, then I realized I didn’t need it (yet). In Terminal, I entered the following:

$ sudo port install ImageMagick

Ok. Then Terminal (which is a scary place for me) started doing a bunch of stuff. Then eventually it looked like it had completed. ImageMagick had some test code to see if it installed correctly:

$ convert logo: logo.gif

$ identify logo.gif

$ display logo.gif

Sweet. All of those commands worked!  I had succesfully gotten ImageMagick installed!

So, I fired up MAMP and then went back to the Koken install instructions which are awesomely simple:

• Download file and extract it

• Place the file in the root directory of your site

• Go to the site and watch the magic happen

So I did. The way MAMP works is it takes your Mac and turns it into a web server running Apache, MySQL and PHP (hence MAMP). When it’s running, you can go to localhost:8888 in a web browser, and that’s the root of your domain for your local environment. So, naturally, I went to localhost:8888/koken

What happened was awesome. It did this fantastic self-check to see if it would work on my “server”.

And then it fucking failed. About 15 times. The error that caused me the problems (which I was grateful it actually let me know WHAT was failing) was ImageMagick.

So, I went back and tried installing it all again.


Eventually, after some more professional Googling, I found a great site that explained not how to get ImageMagick installed, but ImageMagick installed in a MAMP environment.

Those fucking /bin files, man.

Here’s the article that helped save my butt:

Now, to note, there is something that had to be changed. In the instructions (borrowed below), there is a change based on the version of ImageMagick that is now current:

• Download the ImageMagick package and unarchive it in /Applications/MAMP/bin/ImageMagick     <—- you may need to create the file ImageMagick

• In Terminal, type the following three commands:

$ export  MAGICK_HOME="/Applications/MAMP/bin/ImageMagick/ImageMagick-6.8.3" 

$ export PATH="$MAGICK_HOME/bin:$PATH"


• And then, we can run those same test from previous, but from the right directory:

$ cd /Applications/MAMP/bin/ImageMagick/ImageMagick-6.8.3

$ convert logo: logo.gif

$ identify logo.gif

$ display logo.gif

• Lastly, you need to edit the envars file located in /Applications/MAMP/Library/bin

• In the two uncommented lines, change them to:

DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH="/Applications/MAMP/bin/ImageMagick/ImageMagick-6.8.3/lib:/Applications/MAMP/Library/lib:$DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH" export DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH

• Bask in your glory, as now ImageMagick is installed in the right damned place.

Ok, then back to localhost:8888/koken and it should work!

Then it fails.

The last change is to make sure that the directory that Koken is looking at is correct. In the box that Koken has, type: /Applications/MAMP/bin/ImageMagick/ImageMagick-6.8.3/


Until you get through the next screen and realize that you didn’t actually create a new database in MySQL yet. Head over to localhost:8888 and the MAMP start page should have a phpMyAdmin link on the top where you can log in, create a new database and go from there.

Now. It’s time for the fun part. Using Koken.  I was going to do this post with screenshots and then realized that I’d have to go through the process again. Needless to say, I’m going to pass on that for now and actually start working. Hopefully this will help you get to that point too!