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Beer Idle Science Technology

What Beer Can Teach Us About Emerging Technologies 131

cold fjord writes that Assistant Professor and lecturer Dave Conz has an interesting article at Slate, from which: "I believe beer is the perfect lens through which to examine innovation, which is why I teach a senior capstone course at Arizona State University called the Cultural and Chemical History of Beer. ... Home brewing is part of a broad spectrum of DIY activities including amateur astronomy, backyard biodiesel brewing, experimental architecture, open-source 3-D printing, even urban farming. ... Many of these pastimes can lead to new ideas, processes, and apparatus that might not otherwise exist. Depending on your hobby and your town, these activities can be officially encouraged, discouraged, unregulated, or illegal. For example, it's illegal to make biodiesel fuel at home in the city of Phoenix ... but not regulated in the bordering towns of Scottsdale, Chandler, or Tempe."
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What Beer Can Teach Us About Emerging Technologies

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  • Homebrew rebound (Score:5, Interesting)

    by John3 ( 85454 ) <john3.cornells@com> on Monday February 27, 2012 @09:46AM (#39171683) Homepage Journal

    I sell home beer and wine making supplies and ingredients in my hardware store. We've carried products since the mid-1990's and after a decline in activity there has been a big increase in the business in the last five years. I attributed the decline in home brew to the wide availability of micro-brews, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the hobby become popular again even with the large selection of craft beers in supermarkets. More and more of the brewers and wine makers are husband and wife, brewing as much to make drinkable beer/wine as they are trying to learn about the process. It's a small sample and our store is in an affluent suburb, but I'm encouraged by the number of people diving into this hobby which really touches on so many areas (cooking, science, and engineering/design to name a few). It's a natural product line for a hardware store because so much of the gear is just home-built gadgetry requiring plumbing, hardware, and housewares goods.

  • Re:Homebrew rebound (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:06AM (#39171873)

    I sell home beer and wine making supplies and ingredients in my hardware store.

    As a guy who brewed beer in the past and probably will again in the future, most of the stuff you sell to brewers, you probably don't know about.

    I used to buy replacement plastic transfer hoses, copper tubing and handful of strange compression fitting adapters to make my own wort chiller, tubes and hoses to make my own homemade bubbler/vaporlock thingy, etc etc. I purchased all the gear to make what amounts to a remote faucet system on a hose for cleaning. I had the worlds weirdest rube goldberg device to fill bottles. For wine/mead supposedly the most expensive and traditional primary fermenter is a glass carboy, and supposedly the cheapest is a food grade plastic bag (not insecticide treated garbage bag) inside a non-value engineered old fashioned strong metal trash can. Supposedly prices have exploded upward so much that the cheapest durable and watertight primary "couple gallon" fermenter is a standard tropical fish aquarium, although keeping light out and the top sealed must be a huge PITA.

    I never bought "normal homebrewing stuff" from a hardware store like yeast and hops, bottle caps for my crimper, whatever. Thats cool that you sell that stuff as I have 4 hardware stores within 5 miles, but my local "homebrew store" was at least an hours drive. In the internet era its more realistic to order online and wait a day or two, than to invest that kind of windshield time.

  • Re:Homebrew rebound (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John3 ( 85454 ) <john3.cornells@com> on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:12AM (#39171943) Homepage Journal

    When I first started brewing at home (about 1987) it was because all that was available locally was the watery American beers. As more and more craft brewers sprang up the price of quality beer dropped and it was easier to find it at local retail shops. Even my Stop & Shop has about 12' of decent craft beer (Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewing) and at a reasonable price. I think for a while this caused a decline in the became cheaper and easier to locate decent beer so people that brewed just to get good beer no longer needed to brew at home. Just the die-hards continued to brew their own beer, but in the last five years it has bounced back.

  • Barely worth reading (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:24AM (#39172087)

    When there is such an egregious error in the first couple of paragraphs, I almost stopped reading - because it's unlikely that someone that clueless could produce something interesting.

    In the first place, "Germany", as a singular place that could enforce it's laws across it's entire territory didn't exist until 1871. In the second place, the Reinheitsgebot only applied to Bavaria - in the remainder of Germany, there were many innovative beers. In the third place, the Reinheitsgebot only applied to lager beers... In the fourth place, it's long since been repealed (I.E. it's not still in effect as he claims in his very first sentence.) etc... etc...

    The balance of the article is much the same, a fanciful mixture of fact, fancy, and unsupported speculation disguised as something authoritative because the author is a professor.

    For example - he talks about biodiesel production being illegal, but it never occurs to him to question why... Though I bet if he were the neighbor of the guy on the other side of town who had a 300 gallon tank of it collapse and flood two houses and salmon stream he might have other ideas. (Thank $DIETY it never found an ignition source.) The same goes for the Reinheitsgebot, which was created to prevent brewers from cheating their customers.

    When one wonders why modern education produces substandard products - one need look no further than this article for evidence.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:25AM (#39172099)

    I believe beer is the perfect lens through which to examine innovation,

    Here's the most important lesson which I bet is either not covered accidentally or maybe intentionally.

    I live in a greater-city which used to be the center of American beer brewing. A century or so ago, German immigrants built dozens of medium sized breweries and exported all over the country. Big big names, still around in marketing even today.

    All of those jobs, and I mean all, are gone, inside the city. Every last one. Mergers inside the country and international, centralization, downsizing, blah blah, and now we've gone from dozens of breweries to a handful of microbrews, depending on how you want to count Sprecher (in a nearby city) and this brewpub by the local engineering college. A century ago there were dozens of people in my city with the job title "brewmaster" now there is debate but the number seems to hover right around "one" or "zero" depending how picky you want to be.

    Similar thing happened in the automotive business, from hundreds of companies a bit over a century ago to just a handful now. Same deal multiple times with computing.

    The lesson is that in a Emerging Technology there might be thousands of management and engineering jobs, but eventually its no longer an Emerging Technology then almost ALL of those jobs go away, permanently. If you're a 1 in a 100, maybe you can be a survivor making a long term career out of emerging tech, or if you enjoy perma-unemployment after a real fun 10 year run that'll work, but otherwise, if you see emerging tech, run like hell away, if you care about your family being able to eat and have a roof over their head. Run!

  • by gcore ( 748374 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:37AM (#39172237)
    Yeah, that's pretty much true! Breweries uses CIP (Cleaning In Place), and that means pumping large amounts of cleaning agents (usually sodium hydroxide and some acid, phosphoric, nitric or other) for about two hours depending on what tank, tun, pipe, hose. And large amounts of water. I have only worked at breweries. I'm a computer geek too, but I've never had the same passion for computers as I do brewing. Unless you're working in an office at a brewery, you're going to do alot of cleaning. At my previous job, I probably spent tree days a week swabbing floors, cleaning tanks, pipes and hoses. A brewery is the only place I've found that has everything I'm interested in: chemistry, physics, automation and control systems, biochemistry, microbiology, biotechnology and brewing. The brewing process is generally regarded as the oldest practice of biotechnology. You convert the starch, proteins, amino acids and alot more when you make malt out of grain. In the mash tun, you convert the remaining starches, proteins, beta-glucans etc to sugar and nutrition for the yeast. When you boil the wort, you coagulate proteins, isomerise (sorry, bad english. Not native language) the alpha acids in hops so they become soluable and more bitter. Mailard reactions gives the wort color and more flavour. Well, no need to ramble on. If someone would like some basic insight in the science behind the malting and brewing process, I recommend Beer: Tap Into The Art and Science of Brewing, buy Charles Bamforth. [] Or this video with Charles Bamforth called Advanced Chemistry of Beer and Brewing: [] Oh, and I recommend anyone who are interested in beer and brewing to check out some homebrewing clubs that may be avalible in your area. Or check out [] Homebrewing clubs is a good forum where you can learn and discuss brewing, hacking together improvements to the brew rig and brew beer with other people with the same interests.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @12:16PM (#39173339)

    Your lesson and examples really don't make sense. Beer brewing isn't an 'emerging technology', and it certainly wasn't new when the Germans moved to Milwaukee, and when was that.. like the 1800's? So three generations of people is what you consider a 'real fun 10 year run'?

    Also, it's not like automotive just went away. Wages got really high in Milwaukee and unions got powerful. The companies no longer could afford to keep blue collar workers there, so the factories moved to rural places in Ohio and Michigan. The jobs also didn't disappear, they just got re-allocated to different companies (Johnson Controls, Rockwell Automation, Bucyrus, etc..) and locations in the country. Emerging technologies don't just go away. They get replaced and upgraded by newer technologies all the time. Look up the term 'Engineer's Half-life' sometime. The general idea is that 50% of your knowledge will become useless in 2-5 years if you aren't constantly staying up to date.

    Also, let me point out that your comment about all the jobs in brewing being gone is just wrong.. In the city there is Lakefront, Sprecher, Horny Goat, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Great Lakes Distillery, Miller/Coors (while the HQ may have moved to Chicago, there is still a big factory, some corporate, etc in Milwaukee), and TONS of micro-breweries (Milwaukee Ale House, Water Street Brewery, Rock Bottom Brewery, St Francis, Stonefly).

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal