Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder

Of the 3 big, domestic beer brands, I’ll drink Miller first, then Coors, and, if for some reason no alternative exists, then Bud. Still, I’m always game for an interesting non-fiction story, so I gave William Knoedelseder’s Bitter Brew a chance. I was rewarded with a surprisingly tasty story.*

I had no idea the family behind the rise of Anheuser-Busch  was so dramatic and troubled. While providing a detailed history of the Anheuser-Busch company, Knoedelseder incorporates insider perspectives and the reality-show-worthy details of the Busch family. Knoedelseder focuses on the main family patriarchs and CEOs, creating a story primarily centered on the father-son combinations of the August Anheuser Busches (Sr., Jr., III, and IV) – each of which spent time running the company.

The hard-drinking, wealthy, womanizing Busch men aren’t a lovable group of protagonists, but Knoedelseder weaves the (often distant) father-son relationships into the company’s history so smoothly, each chapter of Bitter Brew goes down easy. *

Check out Bitter Brew if you’re interested in the history of beer, business history, or dysfunctional families.


Before Happiness by Shawn Achor

For a historian, I have some real chronology issues. I watched Better Call Saul before Breaking Bad. I watched season 2 of The Crown before season 1. I’ve only ever seen season 2 of Stranger Things. Basically, I’m a monster.

So it didn’t phase me to read Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness, which was published after The Happiness Advantage, first. It shouldn’t phase you to do the same, either. Though he references back to The Happiness Advantage a couple of times, Before Happiness is less a sequel than a book in the same niche, positive psychology.

Achor focuses on “positive geniuses” who are able to change their perspective to increase their happiness and the happiness of those around them. One example he uses is the brainteaser where you need to connect each dot of a 3×3 grid only once, with only four straight lines. While our brain naturally draws a box around the grid, the solution requires you to utilize the white space around it.


Achor delves into research and shows different ways to apply psychological insights to everyday life. One of my favorites is the fact that we work faster and harder the closer we are to a goal. People who start a free drink punch card with two punches will return more reliably and more frequently to earn a free drink than those who start from zero when the number of drinks needed is the same (so it’s better to offer customers two punches and require ten instead of starting at zero and requiring eight).

Achor mentions he taught at Harvard a lot, but that’s my biggest critique so I can’t complain. Achor makes psychological research approachable and relevant. It’s worthwhile read if you’re interested in new ways of thinking.

Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

The more you enjoy basketball, the more you will enjoy this book. The book picks up in 1980 (Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s first year in the NBA) as the beginning of the modern NBA and runs through the 2016 finals. Each chapter is in a Question and Answer format where Serrano explores interesting topics like who are the best fictional basketball players – I cracked up when he was breaking down Air Bud. This format allows you to pick it up and put it down at will as the chapters are mostly unrelated.

I have a decent grasp of basketball’s last 20 -25 years so I got most of the references, though the 1980s were a little hit or miss. Most of the book relies on callbacks to famous plays, players, and teams, so having at least some idea of basketball history (or ample time to YouTube basketball history) is required to get something out of it. I did find the book a fun read – or rather listen. I listened to the audiobook which was still enjoyable, but “illustrated” is in the subtitle, so I’d probably recommend reading the physical book if you can.

If you don’t like basketball, you probably won’t get much out of it though, but it’s a great book if you like basketball and a good gift for the person in your life that likes basketball.

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

Contextualize was one of my go to words as an academic. I loved adding “context” to historical events and I loved reading authors who did the same. Outside of academia, there’s little use for the word. Sure people still add context, but no one ever said “Wow, Bob Costas contextualized that luge competition really well.”

Eloquent Rage is a book that provides context for the experiences of a gifted black girl growing up poor in the South. A mix of memoir and social analysis, Brittney Cooper blends her personal stories, like when her grandmother told her she needed to have more sex, with academic analysis on a variety of topics including feminism and race, politics, and popular culture. Overall, it felt like a collection of essays, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can start and stop if that’s your reading style.

Brittney Cooper is one of a very select few – academics who write truly enjoyable, interesting, and relatable prose. She takes the only good thing about academic writing (clear structure and argument) and leaves the rest behind. Though you can see her academic background at times, it’s something that will probably go largely unnoticed – because her writing is so entertaining.

Eloquent Rage is a compelling memoir, a collection of essays that analyze social and cultural norms, a master class on writing for a public audience as an academic, and a peek into the life of a black woman in the US.

Reflecting on My Job Search

I recently wrapped up my second non-academic job search. In some ways it was easier than the first because I had a solid nonprofit job on my resume, but relocating from Nebraska back to Michigan made the process a bit more interesting. The experience gave me a few insights, even if they’re relatively obvious in retrospect, which I summarize below.

Networking is important.

Moving across a couple of states meant I lost my professional network in Omaha. It’s hard when you lose your network. I did some network building stuff, but I’m sure I could have done more. Most of the time I was just throwing applications against the wall. While that ended up working, the numbers show the success rate wasn’t great.

Judging from the cover letters I saved and what I can remember, I applied for 83 or so jobs. Of the 80+ jobs that I applied for, I had 11 interviews scheduled and two were later canceled by the employers. Ideally, you’ll have an existing network to draw on during your job search to put you in a place where you’ll succeed.

The Job Search Takes Time.

Finding a new job took longer than I expected. My last day at Do Space was in the beginning of July 2017 and my first day at my new job with Rockford Community Services was at the end of February 2018. I applied for jobs before I left Omaha so the entire process ended up being around 9 or 10 months.

The search was pretty up-and-down with periods of activity (lots of applications and batches of interviews) and periods of inaction (particularly around holidays). Having no full-time job for over six months was tough. The longer you plan for your job search to take from the beginning, the more bearable it’ll be.

You’re going to need money.

This goes along with planning for a long job search. Having money from the sale of our house and side-incomes, including a temporary position with ArtPrize, really helped keep our financials from completely cratering. If you’re about to undertake a job search, try to have some savings and a plan to make some money while you’re looking.

Follow your experience

When I looked at my job applications by the type of job that I applied for, it looks like, in retrospect, I put in too many applications. Focusing on roles in which I had a clear background (those most similar to my last job) produced the best outcomes. Even if I was qualified for a position, my resume needed to show it or else I didn’t stand much chance. It sounds like common sense, but when you’re on the job market sometimes you start taking shots in the dark.

Success by Sector

Most of the places that I applied resembled places that I had worked (nonprofit, higher ed, library). This isn’t really ground breaking stuff, though I was surprised how poorly I did with higher ed jobs. However, understanding the language of higher education was incredibly useful when I had the chance to interview.


33 job applications – 42% of applications

These include a handful of positions at K-12 schools or districts but the majority are your typical nonprofit with a smallish staff. My last full-time position was at a similar nonprofit. I enjoyed the environment, which is why I focused much of my effort here.

18% interview rate. I had six scheduled interviews.  I withdrew from two during the process (after seeing they weren’t going to work financially). Two were positions that were offered to me (one was my temporary position with ArtPrize and the other was my current job), and one canceled on me.

Higher Education

18 jobs – 23% of applications

Thanks to being a grad student for many years, I had plenty of higher ed experience, though I was largely disappointed that I didn’t receive more consideration in applying to these positions. Despite my activity in planning and event coordination on campus, I think most were looking for a more traditional student affairs-type background.

6% interview rate. I only got one interview, though that was one where I was a finalist after going on two really good interviews.


14 jobs – 18% of applications

This seems high for what I applied for, but probably around half of these jobs were with the local health care provider and hospital network.

14% interview rate. I got 2 interviews scheduled, but I withdrew from one after not liking the vibe of the company and one interview was canceled on me.


13 Jobs – 17% of applications

A third or so of these were library jobs, which was right up my alley after working for Do Space. Others were administrative or clerical.

23% interview rate. I was surprised that this was my best return rate. I had three interviews schedule. I got a second interview for and was a finalist for a library job. I went on one that they later reopened for applications and later canceled the search.


Read all the books!

It was one of those New Years Resolutions that I probably wasn’t going to keep (like all the others made at the beginning of this year). Still, by the end of June, I finished my 50th book of the year. I recently completed my 51st book and one book over six weeks shows how slowly I go through books when I’m not listening to audiobooks (the 51st was only the 2nd physical book of the year). To consume so many books, I just switched to audiobooks and sped them up (shout-out to the Omaha Public Library’s Overdrive subscription!).

I enjoyed most of the books and some authors stood out – most for good reasons, and just a few for not-so-good reasons. I summarize why I liked (or didn’t) these authors below.

Clean all the things meme but with read all the books written and books instead of a broom

Business and Productivity

Laura Vanderkam – She writes with a pretty specific audience in mind – people (and particularly women) who have children and work in demanding jobs. I’m not this audience at all, but I still liked I Know How She Does It so much I quickly followed it up with 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Vanderkam is a master of showing you how to better use your time and she’s well worth a read.

Angela DuckworthGrit is the hot idea in education right now, but it’s useful to know about for life in general. Duckworth balances talking about important academic research with stuff that interests and applies to regular people nicely.

Chip and Dan Heath – These brothers produced a trilogy worth reading for making yourself better at work (or home). Decisive studies decision-making and how to improve it. Made to Stick looks at presentations and making yourself more memorable. Switch dives into habits and how to change them.

Charles Duhigg – Speaking of habits, this is your man if you want to understand them: read Smarter, Faster, Better and The Power of Habit.

Liz Wiseman – I loved Multipliers. Great for managers to see how they can improve. Great for people who are managed to recognize how their boss works and what that might mean for you and your career.

Jack ShaferThe Like Switch has fantastic, practical advice from an FBI agent on how to get people to like you quickly. Good examples, useful tips, and interesting backstories on how and why it all works.

Daniel Kahneman – Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow is an approachable summary of leading research on decision-making and behavioral economics. He’s one of the people who literally invented the field so he’s a pretty good source. Another great read is The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, which tells the story of Kahnerman and Amos Tversky, their research, and their relationship as they pioneer the study of decision making and its impact on economics.

The Like Switch has good examples, useful tips, and interesting backstories on how and why it all works. Click To Tweet

Don’t bother: Who Moved My Cheese and I Moved Your Cheese are short, heavy-handed allegories that are better off left unread. I also stopped 48 Days to the Work You Love and One Big Thing because they were making bad arguments from the beginning and I didn’t want to waste time on them. I don’t want to write off Amy Wilkinson entirely but The Creator’s Code had issues – one of her main examples is Theranos, the medical tech company that ran into a lot of trouble for its claims and methods, so it’s an outdated read and I found it tough to get past that.

Memoir and Memoir Adjacent

Shonda Rhimes – I think Rhimes’s shows are a good guilty pleasure watch, but I thought the whole Year of Yes thing would be a little hokey. In reality, the book is excellent and inspiring.

Hannah Hart  I knew Hart from My Drunk Kitchen, but I didn’t know anything else about her. Turns out – she is amazing and her life is interesting and intense and her book, Buffering, is a compelling read.

Issa Rae– I didn’t know who Issa Rae was before The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl , but I still enjoyed it. I also read Shrill by Lindy West  on a whim (though it turns out, I had read some of her articles). It’s also worth a read.

 Phil KnightShoe Dog only focuses on the early days of starting Nike so it conveniently skips all the child-labor and sweatshops parts, but it is a close up look at a unusually very successful (though not always at first) business. Lots to learn but keep a skeptical eye when going through.

I thought the whole Year of Yes thing would be a little hokey. In reality, the book is excellent and inspiring. Click To Tweet

Don’t bother: Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass is book that espouses a secular prosperity gospel and not all that useful. #GIRLBOSS is a close up look at a modern startup but, halfway through it, my wife reminded me that Sophia Amoruso’s company had already failed in spectacular fashion, which colored her advice.

General Nonfiction that doesn’t fit anywhere else and other books

Nancy Jo SalesAmerican Girls is full of powerful stories of girls using social media that back up solid research and its findings. It terrified me a bit to hear about the impact social media has on kids, but it’s important to know.

Mark Kurlansky – So the history of frozen food doesn’t lend itself to a sexy pitch but its history and the life of the man who invented it make for a good read in Birdseye.

Jon Krakaeur – Read all his books. He tells a great story and picks topics that get at the heart of important issues. Like American Girls, Missoula is terrifying as it reveals the fucked up world that is the criminal justice system’s treatment of rape and other sexual violence, but it’s very important, particularly for college students and educators.

Missoula is terrifying as it reveals the fucked up world that is the criminal justice system’s treatment of rape Click To Tweet

Don’t bother: America’s Bank by Roger Lowenstein should have been my jam. Gilded Age / Progressive Era history about the founding of the federal reserve. The story has some really compelling parts too – I just struggled to pay attention. I don’t know if it was too long or too bland but listening to it was just a drag at times.

The history of frozen food doesn’t lend itself to a sexy pitch but it does make for a good read in Birdseye Click To Tweet

The List

  1. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver – Audiobook
  2. Spark Joy by Marie Kondo – Audiobook
  3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler – Audiobook
  4. Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakaeur – Audiobook
  5. Bossypants by Tina Fey – Audiobook
  6. The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu – Audiobook
  7. Missoula by Jon Krakaeur – Audiobook
  8. Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett – Audiobook
  9. The Story Teller’s Seceret by Carmine Gallo – Audiobook
  10. Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan – Audiobook
  11. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – Audiobook
  12. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis – Audiobook
  13. Grit by Andela Duckworth – Audiobook
  14. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – Audiobook
  15. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff – Physical Book
  16. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Audiobook
  17. Birdseye: The Adventures of A Curious Man by Mark Kurlansky – Audiobook
  18. Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg – Audiobook
  19. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam – Audiobook
  20. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – Audiobook
  21. 168 Hours: You have more time than you think by Laura Vanderkam – Audiobook
  22. The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae – Audiobook
  23. American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales – Audiobook
  24. I Heart My Little A-Holes by Karen Alpert – Audiobook
  25. America’s Bank by Roger Lowenstein – Audiobook
  26. Buffering by Hannah Hart – Audiobook
  27. Shrill by Lindy West – Audiobook
  28. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – Audiobook
  29. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – Audiobook
  30. Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath – Audiobook
  31. Multipliers by Liz Wiseman – Audiobook
  32. #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso – Audiobook
  33. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin – Audiobook
  34. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – Audiobook
  35. Linchpin by Seth Godin – Audiobook
  36. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – Audiobook
  37. Switch by Chip and Dan Heath – Audiobook
  38. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – Audiobook
  39. Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss – Audiobook
  40. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daneil Kahnerman – Audiobook
  41. The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson – Audiobook
  42. Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port – Audiobook
  43. Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath – Audiobook
  44. Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson – Audiobook
  45. I Moved Your Cheese by Deepak Malhotra – Audiobook
  46. The Like Switch by Jack Schafter – Audiobook
  47. The One Minute Entrepreneur by Ken Blanchard, Don Hutson, and Ethan Willis – Audiobook
  48. Make Your Idea Matter by Bernadette Jiwa – Audiobook
  49. Fascinate by Sally Hogshead – Audiobook
  50. Pitch Perfect by Bill McGowan – Audiobook
  51. Augsburg Confession – Physical Book

Do Space Innovation Fellowship

A pixeled football stadium
A replica of University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium created in Bricklayer

The Do Space Innovation Fellowship was created to allow teachers, nonprofit workers, and librarians the space, time, and resources to create community learning projects for Omaha and beyond. I’m proud to say I coordinated the efforts to launch the first year of the fellowship.

Though my move to Grand Rapids didn’t allow me to lead the project all the way to the final presentations, I am very proud of the amazing fellows that participated and the Do Space team for making everything happen.

Check out the final products the fellows created:

Learn to code lessons and materials using Bricklayer, which can be used to export creations to Minecraft or 3D printers.

Book Zeal, a book sharing project to connect donations to nonprofits and schools in need of books.

Lesson plans on cybersecurity that can be used for an entire class or as individual modules.

What is Airtable?

The cliche would be to call Airtable Google sheets on steroids. I think that sells Airtable short.

I’m a fan of Airtable because it’s flexible. I’ve used it for budgeting, keeping a database of clients, project management, and tracking applications. It’s also free and cloud-based which are positives in my book. Their templates, ranging from wedding planning to advertising campaigns, show Airtable’s versatility, though so far, I have only built mine from scratch.

Comparing @Airtable to Google Sheets sells Airtable short Click To Tweet

It’s true you can do a lot of what Airtable does in other apps and websites, but its big advantage is how everything integrates seemlessly. Airtable is what it looks like if Google decided to let you link cells in separate files, gave you different cell types (like barcodes, checkboxes, dates, and email addresses) as default options, and combined Google forms, calendar, and drive as one app. Being able to switch the view from spreadsheet to calendar to gallery cards, all while adding a public form is a huge plus.

Give Airtable a try for yourself

Why am I talking so glowingly about Airtable? Well, it’s a cool service. They’re not sponsoring me or anything but if you sign up through one of my links Airtable credits my account so I can upgrade to the next tier. Will I ever use these credits to upgrade my account? I don’t know – The free account is plenty useful but if you’re going to sign up why not give me a small benefit while you’re at it?

Lifehack: How to Read More Books

So on New Year’s Day I randomly decided that I would try some resolutions. Normally, I don’t make resolutions or, if I do, I give up before the end of January (like everyone else). And this year, I made an outrageously bold one: Read 52 books. I’m sure reading one book per week isn’t that big of a resolution for many people, but I read fairly slowly. And my consumption of books is feast or famine. I managed to read a bunch of books last summer, but haven’t really read much since then. So I took a swing and so far, I’m #crushing it. In about 6 weeks, I’ve logged 11 books.

How did I double a reading pace that I thought was going to be a long shot to even maintain?

Cheating (of course)

Well, I mean, it’s not really cheating. It’s just audiobooks. My library has audiobooks that I can download onto my phone through the OverDrive app. I like it because it’s as easy listening to podcasts but after I’m done I get to feel like I’m a well-read person.

Sidenote: If your library doesn’t have audiobooks through a service like OverDrive you can always try Audible through Amazon (you’ll get two free audiobooks) and then keep it around and pay for it if you like it.

Ok, so listening to audiobooks seems like a pretty dumb lifehack (which isn’t saying much because most lifehacks are pretty dumb), but my real secret has been playing the audiobooks at 1.5, 1.75, and occasionally 2 times the speed of the recording. Why waste 10 hours listening to an audiobook when you can do the same in 5-7 hours? Audiobooks are generally read to emphasize clarity — which translates to most of the talking being slower than natural conversation, so it’s not a huge jump up to 1.25x or 1.5x normal speed. Once you’re there you become accustom to the faster speed and find yourself working your way up.

Now I find most audiobooks at regular speed sound painfully slow. I’ve noticed people talk faster in podcasts (probably because they’re talking more naturally), but after a few weeks I’m now cranking those up to 1.5x the normal speed.

So if you want to read more, don’t. Listen more. And listen faster.

And now for Brian’s Books (which is also the name of a bookstore where I grew up — no relation)

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakaeur
Missoula by Jon Krakaeur
Read all his other stuff if you haven’t already
The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu

Funny and Memoirish
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Books that I read last year so they don’t count but are good and straddle the line between Nonfiction and Funny and Memoirish
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Self-Improvement and Self-Improvement-adjacent
Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan
The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo

An Easy Way to Map Data in R with Plotly

A couple of years ago, I wrote The complete n00bs guide to mapping in R, my first adventure into R. While that tutorial still holds up, if you’re looking to make a state-level Choropleth Map, there really isn’t anything easier than working with Ploty in R.

Once you get R and RStudio installed and set up, there’s only a few steps that you need to take. If you have a spreadsheet or can make one easily enough of state-level data, like this ranking of mental health and access in the USA by states , you only need a couple of lines of code (minus all the comments that follow the #s).

Let’s start by getting plotly set up.
install.packages("plotly") #installs the Plotly library for R
library("plotly") #tells R you want to use the Plotly library package

I just made a CSV file by copying the information from the website. One column was “state” and the other was “rank.” Because the data was which state and its rankings it was simple. Warning: In this case, the states do need to be copied as postal abbreviations for this to work. Plotly can also do countries. Check out their documentation for the changes you’ll need to make.

Import your spreadsheet and give it a name to use in R
mh<- read.csv("C:\\Users\\Documents\\mentalhealth.csv", header = TRUE, sep = ",")

And we're ready to plot it!
plot_ly(type="choropleth", locations=mh$state, locationmode="USA-states", z=mh$rank) %>% layout(geo=list(scope="usa"), )

And did I mention it's interactive!

A map of the US with the states shaded in colors ranging from dark blue to yellow
Click for a full size map

Another Example
Because plotly makes the mapping so simple, I finally got around to looking at the geographic distribution of the All-America City Award. It started in 1949 and the city I grew up in (Grand Rapids, MI) was one of the inaugural winners in 1949. Since finding out about the award, I was curious if there was any states that did particularly well. However, it was one of those curiosities that was never really worth the effort. Until Plotly made it super easy!

I copied the table straight from Wikipedia and stripped it down to the just the state column. A few metropolitan areas are listed with multiple state winners so split the entry giving both states their own line in the data. I also deleted Puerto Rico (sorry Puerto Rico). I then brought it the file as above.
usacities<- read.csv("C:\\Users\\Documents\\allamericanwins.csv", header = TRUE, sep = ",")

This time, I took a few extra steps. Because my data was just a list of states over and over again (Alabama, Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Wisconsin, etc), I needed to count how many times each state was in the file. R makes it easy to generate a frequency table.
(I told you it was easy)

I then made a new file out of the frequency table because that's how I roll.
write.csv(table(usacities), file = "C:\\Users\\Documents\\allamericanwinsfreq.csv")

I changed the state names to postal abbreviations and add NV and UT who had zero wins, then I was ready to bring in the file and plot the map.
usa<- read.csv("C:\\Users\\Documents\\allamericanwins1.csv", header = TRUE, sep = ",") plot_ly(type="choropleth", locations=usa$state, locationmode="USA-states", z=usa$wins) %>% layout(geo=list(scope="usa"), )
I suppose I could have done this at the beginning and skipped the whole writing a new document thing but hey that's hindsight for you.

A map of the US with states shaded from dark red to light grey
Click for a full size map

It looks like the upper Midwest and and North Carolina/Virginia are the big winners of the award. Because I wanted to get an idea of how this fit with the state's populations, I did some more simple calculations (finding the difference in each state's ranking of number of times they won the award and the rank in total population. This map shows Alaska as a big winner. The Great Plains stays as a winner and this time the South is shown to be a loser when it comes to this award. New England did ok too.

A map of the US with states shaded in colors ranging from blue to red
Click for a full size map

Now go forth and create choropleth maps!