Blog

The beginning

I bought this domain almost three years ago, and I have not done much of substance with it. I’ve changed its theme and style at least three times in the last six months. Every time I did it, it was with the intention of turning the site into something – a professional website that I could share at conferences, a blog about one particular thing, a basic one-pager about me that I could use as a learning tool for my day job.

Every time, my plan failed, because I didn’t do anything once I changed everything. Didn’t add any content, didn’t write any posts. It was frozen in time.

I was thinking about why this was the case last night as I installed yet another new theme and played with more CSS. It’s actually pretty simple: it’s easy to change the looks of a site. It’s a lot harder to maintain. But most importantly, it’s a lot harder to write and to make something that is your own on the Internet. Your own space to talk about whatever you want, even if it doesn’t fit tidily into a particular category.

So my hope is to start writing here much more often. Like many people, I am loath to call myself a “writer” – that conjures up images of someone sitting at a desk with a typewriter and a pipe and devoting their every waking moment to their words. But I read somewhere (and now, of course, I can’t find the quote) that the only thing that makes one a “writer” is that they write. To that extent, we’re all writers. We just have these silly ideas about what a writer is and why we don’t fit the description, and that keeps us from writing.

My plan is to write about the things I love and care about. I don’t particularly care if anyone reads it. I just want to write regularly and I’m doing something to keep the part of my brain that generates and edits and pores over words active.

(That said, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll continue to read. I write good. I promise.)

Beer

Beer. Like lots of other people, I really like it.

This wasn’t always the case. In college, every party I went to had one beer option: the Chicago standard cheap terrible beer, Old Style. I have never and hope to never taste urine, but I can only imagine that Old Style bears a similar flavor profile to it. It is weak, bland, and kind of metallic. So I drank Smirnoff Twisted instead, because it tasted like soda.

Eventually, my college boyfriend introduced me to both Stella Artois and Boddington’s as alternatives. I liked Stella because it at least had some flavor, and it was fairly easy to drink. And I loved Boddington’s because it smelled and tasted (to me) like fresh-cut grass. It was the perfect spring and summer beer.

By late 2008, craft beer was becoming a really big deal, and I was lucky enough to live in a city with a huge craft beer scene. Boddington’s wasn’t great for fall and summer, so I started to try pumpkin beers, stouts, and porters, all of which I loved. I found tons of bars with amazing beer selections and tried as many different beers as I could.

At this point, I would say I’m a beer enthusiast, but not an expert. I’ve never bothered to learn much about the process of making beer. I never waited in long lines for Bourbon County or other limited edition bottles. But I do make it a point to try lots of different types of beer from lots of different breweries, especially when I travel. So since November 2011, I’ve tracked almost every beer I drink using Untappd. I say “almost” because:

  1. Sometimes I end up drinking a beer in a place with bad cell reception and forgot to track it later, and, more likely,
  2. Sometimes I drink so many beers that I.. shall we say.. lose my ability to remember to check in to them.

This week, I finally become an Untappd supporter, which allowed me to do an export of every check-in I’ve ever made on Untappd. That’s 1,498 check-ins, 810 of which were unique beers. So about half of the beer that I drink is new to me, and half is repeats.

Untappd supporters get some cool stats and charts, too. For example:

beer

That spike in February 2016 was the Pittsburgh Beerfest, by the way. And I should probably be concerned about my health if I’m having an average of two beers per day.

But the Untappd stats only scratch the surface. I now have a ton of data about the beer that I drink. So, being a data nerd, I started thinking about how I could use said data. Do I have beer “blind spots” – styles of beer that I haven’t had much of? Are there certain breweries that I drink a lot of beer from, maybe without realizing?

The cool thing about Untappd’s stats is that they break down into two types: unique check-ins vs. total check-ins. Unique check-ins count a beer once, whereas total check-ins count repeats. This allows for an interesting perspective for considering how often I drink a beer, style, etc. vs how many different beer, styles, etc. I’ve tried.

Styles

I love IPAs. I love anything that tastes bitter and makes my tongue hurt. (According to this study, I may be a psychopath.) So I was expecting IPAs to be high on my list in terms of the number of beers that I’ve had of particular styles. But the full breakdown was kind of surprising, especially when you compare unique beers vs. all check-ins:

[table id=6 /]

Unsurprisingly, the top two types of beers that I both try and drink regularly are pale ales. But I apparently also try and regularly drink fruit beers a lot, which I would not have guessed. That said, if I’m at a bar with a good beer selection and I see a fruit beer I’ve never had before, I’ll often try it. Fruit beers are interesting to me because they can vary so widely – I’ve had some that taste sickeningly sweet and others that are totally true to the fruit they’re supposed to represent (New Glarus makes amazing fruit beers, for example). This also true for ciders, which I think is partially due to the fact that ciders tend to be either very widely distributed (think Redd’s) or made by very small meaderies/cideries (like Arsenal here in Pittsburgh), so I like to try different fruit beers because of these differences.

I also try a lot of saisons, but don’t drink them regularly. They’re another type of beer that I’ll try when I’m out, but won’t buy for home. It also makes a lot of sense that I try a lot of American Imperial/Double Stouts, but because of the high alcohol content, I don’t drink them often.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are my friends Radlers and American Amber Lagers. When I lived in Chicago, I would make it a point to drink a lot of Yuengling when I came home to visit, since I couldn’t get it in Chicago. Now that I live in Pittsburgh again, I still drink it often – to me, it’s  a very good very cheap beer. And I’ve had a ton of Stiegl Radlers over the last two summers, since they’re very low alcohol and very refreshing. That said, I don’t stray from those two particular beers, so my “try rate” for those types are low while my consumption is high.

Breweries

So what about different breweries? Do I tend to stick to one or a handful of beers from a brewery, or try lots of different stuff?

[table id=10 /]

* Does not include any brewery checked into five times or fewer.

The data shows a similar trend to what I saw with styles. For certain breweries (generally macro breweries), my “try rate” is very low. For example, 96% of my check-ins to Yuengling beers are for their Traditional Lager. For craft breweries,  my “try rate” tends to be much higher. I’ve repeated beers less than 20% of the time from Pipeworks, Stone, Russian River, and Firestone Walker, for example.

The breweries that I’ve tried the most different beers from are an interesting mix:

  • Revolution – used to live down the street from their brewpub, so I tried lots of different stuff
  • Goose Island – because I lived in Chicago and they are everywhere
  • New Glarus – Wisconsin’s finest, and I begged anyone who went to Wisconsin to bring some back for me
  • Pipeworks – they produce tons of large formats in interesting flavors
  • Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) – say what you will about Sam Adams, but I think their seasonal and variety pack beers are pretty decent, and great to bring to a party in a pinch

This list will be interesting to look back on as I live in Pittsburgh longer, since it’s very Chicago- and midwest-heavy right now.

Most Consumed Beers

I’m not calling these “favorites” because there are a lot of beers that I love but don’t or can’t drink often, either because they’re hard to find or are no longer produced. These would be more aptly called my “go to” beers:

[table id=9 /]

* Does not include any beer checked into five times or fewer.

The next time I hear someone rant about craft beer snobs, I’m going to point them to this list. I obviously drink a lot of craft beer, but Yuengling and MGD are in my top 10 most-consumed list, so…

The thing is, I think if you did this kind of analysis on most craft beer drinkers’ consumption, you would find something similar. Craft beer is much more widespread than it used to be,  but if you go out a lot, you’re going to go to a large number of places that don’t have awesome craft options. Yuengling and MGD are often the cheapest options at a baseball game. In Chicago, Green Line and Anchor Steam were often the only “craft” options at dive bars.

Because such a high percentage of my check-ins are to beers that I’ve never had before, though, this data isn’t terribly exciting.

Lessons Learned

So what I can take away from this analysis, other than the fact that I am a giant nerd?

  1. I haven’t tried a ton of lighter beers like lagers, weizenbocks, hefeweizens, and pilsners. Not surprising to me at all, since I avoid those mightily if I have other options. But I’d like to learn more about those styles so I can appreciate them and try them more often.
  2. I love the fact that I try lots of different beers, but I also kind of wish I had more standbys that I always keep in my fridge. I’m not sure my very easily distracted palate would go for that, though.
  3. I’m counting down the days until my liver fails.

Do you use Untappd? Friend me, please!

What made you depressed?

A few months ago, I moved from Chicago to my hometown of Pittsburgh, which necessitated finding a new primary care doctor. In Chicago, I used Yelp to find my amazing PCP. But now that I live in a smaller city and I have an HMO, I had a tough time finding reviews on doctors. I chose my new PCP from a listing from my insurance because 1) she was fairly closeby, 2) she was a woman, and 3) she had a few decent ratings on Healthgrades.

When I arrived for my appointment, I filled out the standard new patient paperwork. I ticked off the boxes for depression and anxiety, and listed the medication that I take for these conditions.

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for my entire life, though I wasn’t formally diagnosed until college. I talk about it. A lot. People are probably sick of hearing me talk about it. But I talk about my experiences so much because a lot of people don’t. I strongly believe that a lot of the problems with mental healthcare and treatment in this country start with people refusing to talk about it. Our puritanical society has decided that we can talk openly about all sorts of things that I’d rather not discuss, but someone saying that they’re depressed or have a diagnosed personality disorder is just too taboo.

So I was more than prepared to talk about my medical history in this regard. But then my new PCP asked a really stupid question that did not bode well for our discussion:

“How long have you been depressed?”

This is a really stupid question. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how depression works. It indicates that depression and anxiety have a starting point and an ending point. That one day you woke up and felt sad and/or anxious, and you measure your feelings from that day. “How long have you been depressed?” looks like this:

In reality, depression and anxiety look like this:

Image via Frostehzehdragon on DeviantArt

Depression is a two year-old’s scribble. It’s not a straight line. It’s up and down and diagonal and all over. Good luck finding a starting point and an ending point. And anxiety hangs out over your shoulder telling you that everyone thinks your scribble is stupid and ugly.

But fine, whatever. It was a stupid question, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt — maybe it was just bad phrasing. “Well,” I said, “I’ve been depressed all my life, but I was formally diagnosed about ten years ago.”

Then it got worse.

“What made you depressed?”

Again, this line of questioning says when your depression started on [insert date here], what was it that started it? There is such a thing as situational depression, where a particular event directly leads to depression. But most people I know who are depressed have “clinical depression,” which means there is no inciting incident for their feelings. In fact, they may go through a rough time at work and home without any depressive episodes, and they may be doing extremely well at work and have a great new relationship and be depressed.

Sensing an opportunity to educate, I very kindly told my doctor that, “Nothing in particular made me depressed. I just get depressed sometimes.”

“And have you always been on medication?”

“No, I started that more recently. Maybe five years ago.”

And then came the kicker.

“Well, it must be working because you seem pretty chipper.”

Okay. First of all, my medication has absolutely no bearing on my personality. I am a chipper person. I am very nice to strangers and people regularly tell me that I am friendly and outgoing. Which is funny, because I am none of those things. I am an introvert and talking to strangers for too long makes me need a nap. But I know how to turn the friendly part of myself on when I need to.

And even in my most ugly depressive and anxious state, I would still say “thank you” to the bus driver and ask the grocery store cashier how they were doing today. Because my condition has no impact on my ability to be friendly and kind. I try really hard to make sure of that.

And just for the record, my chipper self had a whole slew of anxious thoughts on the way to that appointment, ranging from you’re going to be late to you’re too fat and she’s going to yell at you to what if my insurance doesn’t work? to what if she makes fun of me, so my chipper disposition with my doctor, essentially a stranger, has nothing to do with the anxiety and thoughts that are roiling in my head.

Well-meaning but completely wrongheaded questions and comments like this are why I talk about my mental health. I shouldn’t have to teach my doctor what depression is and is not. I shouldn’t have to educate a physician on what antidepressants do. The more people speak openly about their mental health, the more everyone will understand it better.

Kamouraska – Anne Hébert

I am generally not into the whole “trapped, sad wife in olden times” genre. Edith Wharton is the only writer who has managed to make that story palatable for me, and it’s on the strength of her writing and the fact that her female characters are generally decent people or very entertainingly terrible people (see Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country, one of my favorite books of all time).

But Kamouraska was everything that I wished those books were. It is translated from the French, but even with the language barrier Hébert’s voice as a writer comes through. She writes Elisabeth’s story in fits and starts, seamlessly transitioning between scenes from her idyllic childhood, her disastrous marriage to an alcoholic squire, her passionate affair with an American doctor and their plot to murder her husband, and her current quiet life as a wife and mother.

It seems like these types of books often either one of two ways: 1) the woman and her lover end up together happily ever after, or 2) one of them dies or commits suicide. Kamouraska ends with neither, and provides no real closure. It’s another example of how it is such a refreshing entry in the genre.

The Problems of Philosophy – Bertrand Russell

I was a philosophy minor in college, and I’ve been meaning to go back and read a lot of foundational texts on the subject for awhile now. Russell’s book seemed like a good place to start, as it provides basic context on the major “problems” of philosophy. I first read the “problems” in the title as actual problems, i.e. the things that philosophy gets wrong, but it’s “problems” as the challenges that all philosophy grapples with, mostly the concepts surrounding knowledge and how we know what we know.

It’s probably too simple for someone who knows a lot about the basics of philosophy, but it was a great refresher for me and gave me some good ideas of texts to read next.