This little piggy went to market at Muskegon's Boar's Belly

One day, Mike Hennessy went into the kitchen of his restaurant, Hennessy's Irish Pub, in downtown Muskegon to find his cooks chattering about a show they'd seen on television. It was a show all about bacon.

"They were all excited, saying, 'We have got to have a bacon restaurant,'" Hennessy says. "So, I said, 'OK. So if you're going to have a restaurant, guys, what's a good name for it?'"

That was where the idea for Boar's Belly was born. Located in downtown Muskegon at 333 W. Western Ave, it had its official grand opening on August 7 and is now open every day of the week but Monday. While there's definitely an emphasis on bacon on the menu, serving only bacon wasn't feasible for Hennessy. The restaurant serves diverse, farm-to-table food, meaning all of it is bought, grown and made locally. 

"We try to deal with as many as of our local farmers as possible so we know where all of our food is coming from," Hennessy says. "We even bake our own hamburger buns. We have more control over the quality and where the ingredients come from. This way we are sure of what we are serving."

Boar's Belly aims to support Muskegon area businesses and keep the money in the local economy in all of its enterprises. Muskegon's downtown farmer's market provides important local food that Boar's Belly regularly buys for use in the restaurant, especially fresh vegetables.

"We're all excited about the continuing development of the downtown area," Hennessy says. "The farmer's market is a tremendous addition to downtown and there are a lot of other projects going on. We're looking forward to the next few years."

The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to midnight on Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. To find out more, visit its Facebook page.

Originally published September 11, 2014 for Rapid Growth Media.

Literacy Center offers bilingual positions, hopes to bring literacy to more West MI families

Reflecting its mission, "building a literate community and transforming lives by strengthening reading and language skills," the Literacy Center of West Michigan is offering new positions for bilingual, English and Spanish, speakers.

The Literacy Center provides support to adults throughout West Michigan who need further help developing their literacy skills.

The two positions offered, a part-time community literacy assistant and receptionist position and a full-time program assistant, customized workplace English position, require similar skills from the candidates.

"We're looking for someone who has an interest and passion for working with people in the community," says Lindsay McHolme, director of the Community Literacy Initiative. "We want someone who values cultural awareness and inclusion and has professional communication and organization skills."

Of course, the most important requirement is bilingualism.

"As we seek to improve literacy in our community, we know there are more Spanish speakers now than there were 10 years ago," McHolme says. "We want to be accessible to the community. We're looking to meet all needs."

According to McHolme, 21 percent of adults in West Michigan are low literate: they have some reading skill, but not enough to easily function at a job. However, the Literacy Center's staff and its programs, like the Family Literacy Program, are reaching out to the community and improving those numbers.

"Seventy percent of children of Family Literacy Program families met their literacy growth target, according to district assessments," says Dan Drust, manager of the Family Literacy Program. "This group was compared to similar students whose parents had expressed a need for Family Literacy Services. Only 57 percent of comparison group children met their growth targets."

For more information, or to apply for a position, click here.

Originally published July 10, 2014 for Rapid Growth Media.

A Decade of Degrees-Psychology

Students at Northwestern are like Jay-Z: We’ve got 99 problems. That’s where the comparison ends. Whether it’s bombing a stats midterm, getting a hangover the morning after Boomshaka or seeing your high school friends tweet about how happy they are to be out of school, way before you are, we’ve all got something to complain about.

So what should you do with your problems? Talk to your friends. Seriously. Not only can they be great moral support by themselves, but chances are at least one of them is a psychology major.

Over the past decade, the psychology major at Northwestern rose from fifth-most popular major to second, with 74 more students graduating with psychology degrees in 2013’s undergraduate class than in 2003’s.

Lan Nguyen, a Medill freshman, decided to pursue a second major in psychology due to her interest in helping others, as well as the added versatility to her career.

“I’ve always considered a career in therapy or counseling,” Nguyen said. “If journalism doesn’t work out, I’d be more than happy to pursue a career in social work or something. There’s so many different opportunities in psychology.”

According to Mark Presnell, the executive director of University Career Services at Northwestern, psychology majors have many options for their careers. Being able to read, analyze information and think critically can apply to many fields.

“We’ll have people who come here who’ll be psychology majors and go off and do something completely different,” Presnell said. “Outside a couple of fields like [engineering], you’re going to see them across the spectrum looking at opportunities in education, non-profit, marketing, advertising, consulting, etc.”

So if you’re having real problems, I feel for you son. Go talk to a psych major, you’re bound to know one.

Originally published June 17, 2014 as part of a compilation for North by Northwestern.

Despite bumps, Bitcoin sees increase in transactions

Alex Añón, 47, waits patiently for customers and listens to music while he works on a bike in the back of his shop. Bucephalus Bikes seems like a typical small business. Bits of personal flair from Yellow-Submarine Beat- les figurines to Superman posters garnish the bike shop.

A new flyer hangs among the memorabilia. It displays a bike wheel and within the spokes is a capital B with two vertical lines through it, otherwise known as a Bitcoin.

Añón began accepting Bitcoin at the end of January. He thought it wise to use Bitcoin because it provides an al- ternative from paying $5,000 worth of credit card fees a year. Bikes and accessories add up for both the seller and the buyer.

“Two percent for a small business is a lot,” said Añón. “If it’s something enticing for a small business you can imagine what it would be for somebody who does a big volume of transactions.”

While the price of Bitcoin fell the past few months, the number of daily Bitcoin transactions continued to grow.

  The amount of daily Bitcoin transactions from January 2009 to March 2014 (Source: Coindesk.com)    

The amount of daily Bitcoin transactions from January 2009 to March 2014 (Source: Coindesk.com)

 

Back in 2009 when Bitcoin began, less than 200 Bitcoin transactions occurred in a day. Since Feb. 27, 2014, a little more than 70,000 transactions occur daily, according to Coindesk.com.

The digital currency offers quick exchange, minuscule transactions fees, a lack of a central banking system and great potential. However, Bitcoin isn’t flawless.

Arvind Krishnamurthy, 45, is a professor of finance at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He believes Bitcoin has a lot of question marks surrounding it.

“It’s hard to know where it’s going to go,” he said. “The most clearly productive aspect of Bitcoin is they’re offer- ing a more efficient way of transacting. It’s possible that the existing transaction providers adapt and improve their technology. Then you just eliminated the one thing Bitcoin brings to the table.”

According to Krishnamurthy, Bitcoin lacks the important aspect of safety that is characteristic of major currencies.

“Historically, people trade currency for three reasons,” said Krishnamurthy. “It’s safe, it’s widely accepted and it’s easy to transact. For Bitcoin, safety is a question mark with security issues and even price volatility.”

Last October the FBI seized $3.6 million worth of Bitcoin from the online drug running service Silk Road, effectively shutting it down. (Gabbatt)

Rumors of insolvency surrounded Mt. Gox, a major Bitcoin exchange platform, weeks before it announced bankruptcy Feb. 28, taking all of its users bitcoins, an estimated $425 million, down with it. (Kageyama)

Jonathan Solomon, 28, owns Chicago Mint, a Chicago-based business that helps local businesses to accept Bitcoin and find solutions to avoid volatility. Solomon predicted Bitcoin would rebound from the poor practices of some exchangers and the volatile drops in value.

“Six months ago that would’ve ended the whole Bitcoin world,” he said. “There’s so many other exchanges that have popped up that it’s not even the biggest anymore. It’s a broken arm, but we just cut it off and grow a new one. This is a really resilient technology.”

Bitcoin receives a lot of media coverage, mainly highlighting its problematic and scandalous aspects.

In the past week two major stories about Bitcoin hit the headlines. A Newsweek article published March 6 “revealed” the identity of Bitcoin’s mysterious founder Satoshi Nakamoto, though many call it speculation. (Bauder) A young CEO of a small Bitcoin exchange committed suicide. (Wagstaff)

Kim Adams, 24, is a grad student at Northwestern. After writing several stories about Bitcoin and its development, she believes Bitcoin is working toward a better image.

“I think it is eventually going to become regulated and a much safer currency,” Adams said. “I think that these couple downfalls that they’ve had that have stolen the headlines will force other exchanges to wake up and say ‘How can we really make this a secure currency that people aren’t afraid to use or experiment with?’”

Back in February, the Chicago Sun-Times decided to experiment with Bitcoin itself. For 24 hours a pop-up prompted visitors to donate Bitcoin to the Taproot Foundation or skip to the website.

“We were a little worried because it was such a new thing to do,” said Stephanie Pelletier, 29, the IT leader of the Sun-Time’s development group. “We got quite a good amount of positive feedback and financial support for the charity. It was interesting how willing people were to try something new.”

Bitcoin’s future is unknown. However, some local Chicagoans began “meet-ups” aimed to promote Bitcoin use today. On Tuesday members met at Atlas Brewing Company and payed for their meals in Bitcoin. These meet- ups encourage interaction and discussion between cryptocurrency enthusiasts and Bitcoin newcomers.

Jimmy Gomez, 26, bought his first Bitcoin last month.

“Being at the point right now where I could potentially have an impact in Bitcoin’s presence here is kinda awe- some,” he said.

Works Cited

Bauder, David. “Newsweek Dives Into Huge Controversy With Bitcoin Story.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffington- Post.com, 08 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

Gabbatt, Adam, and Dominic Rushe. “Silk Road Shutdown: How Can the FBI Seize Bitcoins?” Theguardian.com.

Guardian News and Media, 03 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Kageyama, Yuri. “Tokyo Bitcoin Exchange Files for Bankruptcy.” News from The Associated Press. The Associated Press, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2014

Wagstaff, Jeremy, and Rujun Shen. “CEO in Apparent Suicide Was Bitcoin Fan, Had Other Issues, Too.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. 

 

Originally published March 13, 2014 for Medill's Writing and Reporting class.