Saturday, September 6, 2014

DragonCon 2014 – Day 3


Possibly the best thing about Day 3 was a respite from the crowds – other than in the Marriott.  It was also a busy day for panels.

The Right to Be Forgotten – This stems from a lawsuit in Spain whereupon a judge agreed with the plaintiff that past public information should, at some point, not be searchable on Google, who was the defendant.  The plaintiff had some past financial bankruptcies or similar which caused embarrassment a decade or more later.  The question was whether public records should be removed from easy public access, or whether the public had a right to know.

Presumably, this decision does not affect the ability by 3rd party companies to do background checks.  The information remains on record to be found, just not by searching someone’s name on the internet.  As a result, Google has employees who not manually choose what information to remove from their searches when individuals file appropriately.  The government gave no guidance as to what information or how they should do it, just that they should do it.

It begs interesting questions about removing links to newspapers or other public reports that mention these infractions.   The most obvious issue might be a public figure who drives while drunk, has an accident and leaves his companion to drown in the water, and later runs for public office.  The record is still out there, but not readily obtainable.

This is a separate issue than private information, such as personal photos or other information used without permission – the individual has rights against the author or site who post that information.  Google, here, is somehow made responsible.  A panelist mentioned Bing has started doing this as well, knowing that they will just get sued if they do not.  This applies to the EU only.  In the U.S., there a free market solution as companies can be hired to manage a person’s internet “background.”

Also, humorously, Google added a tagline when alterations had been made, essentially a note at the end of the first page along the lines of “Note: Some results have been removed due to the Right to be Forgotten.”

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Next up was the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings panel.  An amiable group, with the most interesting comments about meeting Christopher Lee for the first time and the beauty of filming in New Zealand.  Otherwise, Billy Boyd (“Pippin”) sang “The Edge of Night” upon request (from The Return of the King)as well, and the cavernous room was remarkably silent and respectful.

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Terry Gilliam – the Monty Python veteran and film producer, spoke at length about some of his movies, particularly his last one, Zero Theorem.   There were many fans of his films, which to most people fall under “cult favorites.”

His time to disconnect is to go to his home in Italy, where he enjoys sunsets and watching the swallows... which he then went on to suggest imagine being an insect.  The most beautiful time of day is suddenly a nightmare, with swallows diving to feed.  It’s the kind of dark humor that finds its way into his films.

He also offered up a story of directing Robin Williams in “The Fisher King.”  They were filming in NYC’s Central Park, when it rained.  So they went to a Chinese restaurant and filmed scenes until 4:30 a.m.  Everyone was worn out, and Williams suddenly started a 45 minute monologue that included jokes about every person in the cast and crew present, obviously a guy who didn’t hang out in isolation when not on set. 

Gilliam also has an interesting habit of chuckling after finishing his thoughts, whether a nervous habit, finding humor in himself, or a way of relating, I’m not sure.  In any case, rather than hide behind the desk, he moved to the front of the stage, taking questions directly from the audience and shaking their hands, no doubt a great experience for his fans.

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I then went to the Stargate panel, which had actors from many of the series.  I attended largely to see Louis Ferreira, who played Colonel Young in Stargate: Universe, the only series in the franchise that I liked... and which was cancelled after two seasons.  He has a reputation of being a joker, essentially the opposite of his character.  My wife saw in the previous day’s panel and found him hysterical.  For this panel, he was a no-show, said to probably be roaming the convention in a costume.

What was left was the usual Q&A, and if there was an exceptional moment, I don’t remember it.  Still entertaining, though.

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My next trek was to The Hierarchy of Black Holes, said to serve a purpose in the universe.  The room was filled.  So, I hiked to the Joss Whedon panel, which had Ron Glass (Firefly, Barney Miller), Amy Acker (DollHouse, Angel, Agents of SHIELD), and J. Angel Richards (Angel, Agents of SHIELD).

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Entertaining, once again, but sadly with nothing exceptional.

And, after dinner, was Adam Baldwin, with discussion largely centered on his new “hit” show, The Last Ship.

Baldwin entered as a spectacle, of sorts, with his KISS shirt, and promptly went about making it obvious that although he had never served in the military, both his character in the show and his personal interests fall squarely within “a man’s man” habits...  Conservative, cigars, beer, loyalty and fidelity.

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He interacted with the questioners in a very personal style, including a young woman from Alabama who managed to stammer “You’re actually real” before losing her ability to speak.  he called her forward, gave her some water and a hug, and forward we went.

Baldwin also got played.  A military officer asked him to tell his story about receiving a challenge coin, which, when presented, should be greeted by the other sailor’s coin else the next round is on them.

Baldwin happily told the story, then challenged the sailor for his.  He immediately bent down, and carried a six pack to the table.  This effectively concluded the panel.

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It was a great conclusion to the weekend.

Funny picture while waiting for the Baldwin panel to begin – the red circles are cell phones:

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All photos taken from the weekend can be seen HERE.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

DragonCon 2014 – Day 2


Saturday is Parade Day.  And once again, we chose not to attend due to the incredible crowds that require sitting around for 2 hours in order to be able to see it unobstructed.  I’ll note that a local Fire Department unit provided their own solution to see over the throng, with invited guests on top of their trucks.  No doubt they were getting paid, and had signed waivers lest the guests fall.

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We arrived before the parade began, and I was able to watch people race to the parade route, many in costume and running late.  Like these two.

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And then a group of well dressed super heroes approached, and by the time I shifted to get a better shooting angle... they were already past me.  Note: This was the first Mysterio outfit I’ve seen – he did a fine job with the helmet/orb.

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I did turn around to catch Catwoman turning around, just in time to catch her catching me.  I think she was ready to be photographed through the day...

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After another trip to the marginally less crowded Vendor’s area (while the hordes watched the parade), we went to Airship Races, described as “R/C airships race in thrilling elimination heats and also compete on aesthetics and design.”  It sounded kind of cool and also offered the opportunity to move on the next panel without being rushed if we so chose.

There were a surprising number of people gathered to watch.  And, there were surprisingly few entrants, three that we saw and one that remained in a state of repair when we left.  The idea was simple... fly the airship around two “pylons” (aka people) in a figure eight; the fastest wins.

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Above is Contestant #1, a helium filled balloon with a rudder control and a fan, controlled by an iPhone.  It didn’t look to be a serious contender when they were preparing it, and... it never managed to complete the course.

This was of obvious humor to Contestant #2:

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He managed his ship through the course in about a minute, seemingly in full control.  Well done, and impressive at the time.

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Contestant #3, Eleanor Page, was introduced as the previous year’s winner with a ship that was “amazingly fast.”  It was amazingly fast.  Game, set, and match.  So, we left, without the “thrilling elimination heats” or any appreciation for “aesthetics and design.”  .

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We then wandered over to the Walk of Fame, where the celebrities assemble for autograph signings and pictures – for a price.  This doesn’t mean you can’t get a much closer look than you would at a panel, or even talk to them if you chose.  And, soon after seeing John Ratzenberger at his table, we realized he had a panel that began in about 20 minutes in the ballroom nearby.  Weighing pros and cons of other panels, we opted in.

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Ratzenberger was, of course, Cliff from the TV show Cheers, and he has voiced characters small and large in every Pixar film.  We learned that he began his performing career in a 2 person imrpov act in Euriope, acted in a large number of films prior to his Cheers fame, created his own role as the bar “know it all” as he exited a failed Cheers audition, has a strong work ethic, decries modern public educational standards, would trim the hedges at Pixar if they asked, and likes to tease unsuspecting children with Pixar character voices when they walk by.  He’s also appreciative that his “work” doesn’t compare with the manual labor required in his carpentry days, and probably scoffs at actors who complain a lot.   It was enjoyable and well worth the time.

After lunch and respite from the crowds, we went to “When Satellites Fail: A Modern Apocalypse.”  These non-celebrity panels are not only frequently very interesting but can also be quite good, as this one was.   Les Johnson, a NASA scientist (disclaimer: not speaking on behalf of his employer), talked about how satellites might be obliterated and our dependence on them.

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His interest began when he went to Dollar General (I’m sure there’s a joke about a NASA scientist going to Dollar General...), and the cashier asked if he had cash as their credit card reader was inoperable.  The type that most stores now use communicate directly with satellites rather than through the internet for data security purposes. A line of curiosity was borne.

How satellites might be destroyed:

1) Coronal Mass Ejection – These are releases of huge quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation.  When directed towards the Earth, a CME squeezes the planet’s magnetic field, exposing orbiting satellites to greater radiation.  Military grade satellites have been “hardened” (Faraday cage) to withstand massive radiation.  However, commercial satellites have not.  These burps from the sun happen regularly, but the last severe CME was the “Carrington” event in 1859.  If that happened today, it would wipe out all satellites other than the hardened ones, and possibly the power grid on the planet.  Severe CME’s don’t happen often, and they’re not predictable.  The last similarly sized event was in 2012, but it was directed away from the Earth.

2) Space Junk – See Gravity?  The Kessler Effect proposes a cascade of orbital objects that wrecks anything worth keeping that is in orbit.  Imagine even tiny objects traveling 5 miles per second that can obliterate an entire satellite, shredding it into small projectiles which travel just as fast in different directions, striking other satellites.  There are half a million orbiting objects around the planet.  Aside from non-functional satellites are Russian rocket upper stages (large), Russian nuclear material that freezes when hidden from the sun (from old nuclear powered satellites, thanks Ruskies...), frozen urine from astronauts, etc.  He presented NASA slides showing the rough density of space debris through the last 5 decades – pretty amazing.

In 2007, China tested an anti-satellite weapon which alone caused 10,000 additional objects.  Two other satellites collided, and as a consequence of both events, the likelihood of the Hubble Telescope being struck increased by 40%.  Note: There is a treaty on managing space junk; China hasn’t signed on. (This includes making parts that are designed to be burnt/consumed upon re-entry or propelled into deeper space after useful life, for example).

Oh, and there’s one giant satellite still up there that 2 objects pass nearby (within 200 meters) each year which could trigger this event.   The satellite will remain a target for the next 150 years at which time it will descend into the atmosphere.

3) Space War – deliberate attack against satellites.

4) Space nuclear war – widespread satellite attacks.

Consequences:

Average satellite usage per American is 35/day.  Our dependencies, In a list form:

  • GPS – autos, etc.  16,000 cargo ships are directed by GPS.  Trains have GPS built in for positive train control – alerting where they are located at all times (coming to aircraft within 10 years). 
  • RFID – and other inventory systems that communicate between users (such as retailers) and warehouses for just in time deliveries.  New York City has an estimated 3 day food supply.  The disruption to the distribution system could be disastrous – lack of imported goods, temperature controls, etc.
  • Cell phones – even wireless phones send data packets that have to be time stamped for the data to be sorted – a satellite function.  In regions where cell phones don’t work, satellite phones would obviously be similarly affected.
  • Military surveillance – Imagine all the world’s defense departments without surveillance, amid suspicions as to what nations are doing in a time of world disaster. Navigation of military assets would also be at risk (Navy ships, cruise missiles, etc.)  An interesting note is that as of 1998, Annapolis no longer requires that graduates learn celestial navigation.  The Merchant Marine still does.
  • VSAT – very small aperture terminals – the basics of credit card commerce. (Dollar General).  How’s the cash supply?  Large financial institutions are dependent on satellites for e-transfers.
  • Weather forecasting significantly challenged.
  • Remote sensing – used in crop management for moisture and optimal planting times.  Interesting note:  the spread of genetically modified foods can be tracked from space because they have a slightly different detectable (heat?) signature.
  • Other communications – Cable systems use satellite.  Local radio would remain, with local news.

His prediction is that a major event, not even the “big” event, would result in a recession and possibly a depression.  And, the miniaturization of commercial satellites actually makes them more vulnerable.  There are discussions about requiring commercial craft to be hardened from radiation, but no progress is being made.

After that cheery event, we stayed in the same room for “What Do I Eat Now?” – a speculation on what to eat “once the world has ended and the local grocery has gone up in smoke.”

The presenter’s son was cute:

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The rest of it was false advertising.  In short, it was a lesson on how to determine when foods actually expire, followed by a tasting of various survivalist foods intended to last years.  Bag inflated?  That means decomposition gases.  Wrong color?  Don’t eat it.  Different consistency?  Same. 

I guess his answer is that first you need to buy your end of the world supplies, because he didn’t elaborate on other options that might be on hand.  Squirrels, nuts, plants, etc.  It was a food safety class.  Below was a comparison of an edible something compared to an inedible something.

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Right then!  Otherwise, a few pictures for the day:

Olympus, the Robot:

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A gaggle of... Disney characters?

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A guy with the hair and accessories to really pull this look off. 

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Creative (?) recycling:

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Superheroes.  Always good to end with superheroes!

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

DragonCon 2014 – Day 1


Another year, another DragonCon.  That makes it sound like it’s a routine obstacle of sorts, but it’s not.  It’s become a marker for annual passage as meaningful, say, as Jan. 1st, and it holds a promise (by way of pre-paid memberships purchased for the next year) that another is forthcoming. 

By the end of each Con, I’m always pretty worn out with the press of crowds, the smell of Atlanta’s sewers, the wet bathroom floors, people who are flowing with the crowd who suddenly stop, and the aggravation of missing panels that share time slots with others in which I have an interest.  And then, one day later, after sleeping in, I’m rested and counting down to next year.

This year lacked the number of “must see’s” that I’ve found in recent years, but there were still panels of interest throughout the three days.   That said, it was more of a “hit and miss” experience than in the past 6 years I’ve attended.

First up was Arrow, a series I’ve watched and enjoyed a great deal.  Absent was the title actor, but present were Caity Lotz (Canary), Paul Blackthorne (Detective Lance), David Nykl (Anatoly Knyazev) and Katie Cassidy (Laurel Lance) – also the daughter of the Partridge Family’s David Cassidy.

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Overall, it was a fine panel, well attended, but without the great reveals, the behind the scenes looks, or anything, really, to form a bonding moment with the crowd.  The Q&A’s were fine, there was good humor, and it was worth the time, but it was still a disappointing start, which I’ll explain shortly.

Quickly hurrying to the Marriott, we realized that the “Fans of Land of the Lost” was, as advertised, a fan discussion, rather than one hosting the related guest celebrities (Will, Holly, and Chaka) who were at the Con this year.  One friend stayed; I left to go find food...

... and get in line for Karl Urban.  My observation is that there are three types of “celebrity” panels.  One includes an actor or actors who approach the occasion as being accessible to fans and through which appreciation is expressed both ways.  For the fans, there’s a certain “cool” factor at seeing and hearing people who play characters with which they’re very familiar.  It’s informative and entertaining.  The Arrow panel falls into this category.

The second would be a intelligent discourse that creates increasing respect for actors who think deeply and can express their opinions absent a script.  Edward James Olmos and Sir Patrick Stewart are good examples here.  The fan is left with a more insightful regard for the actor.

The third variety involves actors who come to entertain.  They may talk about very similar things as those in the other two categories, but they do so within a performance.  These are usually more informative than the second variety, because they’re quick.  Quick to respond, quick to make it funny, and quick to engage the individuals who ask the questions at a more personal level.   Nathan Fillion, James Marsters, William Shatner, Alice Cooper, Adam Baldwin (when he’s solo), Ernest Borgnine to the extent of which he was capable... they own the stage and their personality shines through – whether true or concocted.  You might say they’re full of themselves, but in a good way.

Karl Urban falls into that latter category.  I wasn’t aware of all the work that he has been in.  It only recently dawned on me that the guy who played Dr. McCoy on the Star Trek reboot was the same as Kennex on the questionably cancelled series Almost Human.  Gee, he looks familiar...

He entered with sunglasses, and offered a greeting in voices of Judge Dredd, McCoy, and Kennex, and owned the crowd from the start.

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Particularly entertaining was his periodic dialogue with a kid in the front who was recording the program but not paying close attention to it.  “Are you going to post this on YouTube?”  “No, my mom will just watch it for hours.”  Insightful, funny, quick, engaging... this was the highlight of the day, which I wouldn’t have expected.  The next Star Trek movie is in pre-production, by the way, and there’s no chance Almost Human will be revived.  I’m sure someone will post portions of this on YouTube at some point, if you’re a fan.

Next was Mike Grell, a DC Comics writer and artist who worked on several of my childhood favorites, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Green Lantern/Green Arrow among them.

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D*Con has a “Comics” track of programming, and like Al Bellman the previous year, the “insider’s” view of the comics world is interesting... even if I’m not attuned to its trivia, either from the business end or the comic characters’ storylines.  I read comics when I was a kid to enjoy them, not to remember them.  That’s a nice way of saying my memory stinks, because I read a lot of comics, and then re-read them.  In any case, it was an interesting story of a guy with a dream who promptly fell into a career where he was a major talent.  Good stuff, but he spoke to a much more knowledgeable audience.

The final panel for the day was Falling Skies, a show that my wife watches regularly.  I’ve seen some of it, and maybe even a whole episode.  The panel started with Colin Cunningham (John Pope) and Drew Roy (Hal Mason), who were later joined by Scarlett Byrne (Lexi).  After watching (a part of) the season finale Sunday, it was remarkable how opposite Colin is compared to his character, who never smiles or seems to have a good day. 

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Colin and Roy showed a lot of appreciation for their audience and their show, with good humor.   Aaron Sagers, who in my mind is D*Con’s best moderator, did a splendid job of moving things along in an informed, fun, and fluid manner.

Other than that... we toured the zoo known as the Vendor’s area.  The only notable finding this year was... bathrobes!

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Huh.  I’d have to think a stormtrooper bathrobe should be chosen carefully, re: Princess Leia’s “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”   Other than that, we paid the usual attention to what was new in the way of clever T-shirts and looked a little more closely at table top games.

Elsewhere:

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African Americans continue to increase their participation – and costumed participation, in D*Con.  And, larger people also find unique ways to make the most out of natural traits.  Rock on, dude.

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Anyone remember Conan the Barbarian?  and James Earl Jones?  Race and girth work together here:

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There are so many characters in the “fandom” universe, I really have no idea where they all come from, and many are probably original ideas.  But these were very happy to be photographed.

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This one is so new I almost missed it:  Groot, from Guardians of the Galaxy.  No, not the guy.  Look at his hand.   It had dancing moves and everything.  I should have asked how it was made – Due to the movie’s rather surprising popularity, I doubt China would have manufactured anything so clever so quickly.

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The lobby of the Hyatt tends to attract people with mega-size costumes.  It’s not quite as crowded as the Marriott lobby and allows some space around which the crowd flows.  I didn’t see this lady set up her tent, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a child wander in the front door.  A very clever costume.

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And, lastly, what’s a D*Con without Indy?

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta, GA


On the face of the slogan placed on their building, I disagree.  At a deeper level within Monday Night Brewing’s origins, I get it.

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Located on Atlanta’s West End, the brewery’s tour options don’t favor those who travel from the ‘burbs.  Too much traffic.  But, on a weekend... this can be done.  So it was that some coworkers and friends visited for their 2-4 p.m. tasting/tour.  At what time should you arrive for a two hour window? 

Well, early seems to be the right call.

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Consider that for $10, you get a souvenir pint glass and 6 tickets for 4 oz. tastings of whatever is on tap.  Put the brewery on the increasingly popular West Side of Atlanta, and people come.

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As the crowd gathered, the number of females attending was remarked by a couple friends as being, well, remarkable.  So, I get curious and go to Google for answers to life’s questions.  Hmm, 25%-29% of women of legal age enjoy beer.  That’s interesting.  In my growing experience of visiting breweries, the female proportion is substantially higher than that, but well below the 51% population average.  If it’s a caloric intake issue, the women attending generally tend towards being pretty fit.  Maybe they all suffered from Bud Light at an earlier age and just said “no.”

Anyway, here’s the brewery fresh options (click to enlarge):

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Only, they were out of Drafty Kilt, Barrel Aged Drafty Kilt, and Tie Three On (though they may have found some of that near closing).  Brewery visits beg for trial run products, and the options felt a bit limited for an emerging major player in the Atlanta market.

Here’s an image on the portions:

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(Hint: 3 tickets for a full pour = not proportional, but 6 tickets = DUI without food, which isn’t served – and no food truck was present this day).  So here’s how they pour, with the Bed Head, an imperial IPA with coffee.  I’d say the pour was spot on.  It was also a delicious beer, and one that I would look for in area menus. 

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Next up was the Blind Pirate IPA, also very good, but not as distinctive in flavor as the Bed Head.

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Third was the T.Mac Daddy, brown, malts, and a bit roasted.  It was decent and not overpowering, unlike what might be suggested by the slang of it’s name, “a man with an unusual power over women.”  Absent an Austin Powers effect,  I’d try other beers instead.

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And lastly, in flavor as well, was the Nerd Alert pilsner.

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All in all, the Bed Head was the best encounter, and otherwise the rest wouldn’t steer me to their products given other local choices.  There’s ample competition, and Monday Night Brewing is pretty upfront about making “drinkable” beers.  In other words, they’re good, but they’re safe.

Which leaves the facility.  Most striking upon entering is the Wall of Ties.  The Origin Story involved three friends who moved their 6 a.m. Bible studies from the morning to Monday nights, at which point they also worked on home brewing.  Add experience, encouragement, and informal gatherings for a hundred or more guests, and there became a business imperative.

The result is people giving up their day jobs (i.e., their ties) for entrepreneurial risk.  Patrons get $1 off admission if they donate a tie to the wall.  A symbolic gesture with actual cash value.

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They also have the usual fare of brewery stuff.  A note, however, is that when we entered, the counter was full of pint glasses loaded with tickets.  The crowd was huge.

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Fortunately, we were early enough to get a table, and it’s a sizeable venue, with the lucky ones seated, several playing games, and many left standing indoors or on their patio.

The tour was hosted by “Duck,” an entertaining enthusiast who takes special effort to pose for pictures when he spots a camera.

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Yep, he saw me again. If I heard correctly, they can produce up to 10,000 bottles in their four brew kettles, and can bottle at a rate of 3,000 per hour (after fermenting, etc.).

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They added a formal touch to their vats.

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The quote of the day was during Duck’s description of the process, when he pointed out that spent grains were sold for cattle feed.  Brewers are very sensitive to being “green.”  Per Duck, “Nothing says ‘recycling’ like a rib eye.”  It will be a sad day when political correctness demands that carnivorous references be struck from public discussion.  Keep the faith, Duck.

Our motley crew:

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