Tag Archives: Palo Alto

Beer Review: Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock

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Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock

Before I begin sprouting my opinion, I find it necessary to mention that I am very uncultured in the world of bocks; I’ve only had two. The first bock I had was from Shiner. Shiner Bock was one of the first beers I enjoyed drinking, but as I sample it now I do not care for it. The other bock I had was from a brewery I cannot recall, though I do remember not being a fan of it. So I will note that I was a bit apprehensive about trying Gordon Biersch’s Blonde Bock, but I’m always up for experiencing new brews.

The appearance of this beer was quite standard. Most bocks are generally darker in color, but this one was definitely golden blonde in hue. It poured a 1-finger white head that dissipated within a couple of minutes and left next to no lacing on the glass. Again, it was average looking. It just did not seem to have anything going for it. It sits even on the scale at a 2.5/5.

The nose on this beer was incredibly malty right out of the bottle. I popped the cap and my nose was hit with a fresh bready/biscuit aroma. I was also getting small hints of fruit, maybe pears? It was very faint, but was a nice touch. There was almost no hop presence at all on the nose. While the aroma wasn’t a complete knockout, it wasn’t displeasing by any means; just very underwhelming which gives it a 2.75/5.

As with the nose, the taste was definitely bready, which was exemplified as the beer warmed. There wasn’t much of a hop profile to this brew. It was hard to pick out exactly what flavors the hops were trying to produce or enhance. I know bocks are more malt-driven, but you really got only a taste of hops at the back end. I found that my choice to snack on pretzels while drinking this was an excellent decision as the saltiness of the pretzels balanced the sweetness of the malts and provided a nice sweet taste. The taste was fine, but not extraordinary. I’d give it a 3.25/5.

Generally when drinking beers the mouthfeel has a tendency to change throughout the tasting. Blonde Bock, however, maintained a refreshing and crisp feel the entire session. It was so crisp, in fact, that it felt almost brittle. I don’t know if a liquid can be described as brittle, but that was the first word that came to mind when drinking this bock. It does not coat your mouth or throat; it just passes right through and does not sit in a heavy fashion. For me, this was enjoyable. I usually like my beers to feel somewhat thicker, but for its taste I think the feel matched it quite well, earning it a 3.75/5.

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Overall, this was by no means a bad beer, but I probably would not go out of my way to seek it out and would likely pass it by if other options were available. I’m glad to have tried an interesting bock variation, but it was simply not my cup of tea. No doubt this is a fine representation of the style, but it does not fall within my wheelhouse. Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock is alright, but not great. Final score: 3.1/5.

Ryan Moyer

Ryan is a graduate of Indiana University.

Note: Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock has an alcohol by volume (ABV) content of 7%. Gordon Biersch began its brewing activities in Palo Alto, California. The Gordon Biersch brewery and bottling plant is located in San Jose. Gordon Biersch is now headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado.

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Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

The Next Best Thing: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner (Atria Books, $26.99, 400 pages; AudioWorks Audio, Unabridged on 11 CDs, $39,99)

Songs Without Words: A Novel by Ann Packer (Vintage, $14.95, 384 pages; Random House Audio, Unabridged on 11 CDs, $34.95)

This review is a duet of sorts.   Both books were read in the audio format.   They explore what can happen when a young girl loses a parent or multiple parents.   Ironically, each begins on a separate coast of the U.S.; however, all the main characters end up in California, albeit Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, respectively.   As we’re often told in self-help books and philosophical literature, it’s not the incident that shapes us, but rather, the way we react to it.   Each of these tales packs a wallop of an incident.

In The Next Best Thing, we learn that young Ruthie Saunders endured the horror of an automobile crash that killed both her parents and maimed her for life.   Ruthie’s face is mangled on one side, as is her body.   She has the good fortune to be the granddaughter of a truly kind and loving woman who steps in and gives her a life filled with hope and understanding.

Although Ruthie braved numerous painful surgeries over the years and the unsympathetic stares of her classmates, she persevered.   Her scars and physical limitations are vivid and readily noticeable but her spirit is strong.   Together with her beloved grandma, Trudy, Ruthie travels from the East Coast to take on the daunting challenge of breaking into the Hollywood television writing scene.   She becomes a promising comedy writer in Hollywood and even has a boyfriend.   The story takes on a sense of urgency when Ruthie’s autobiographical sitcom script is given the green light and is produced as a television show.

For sixteen-year-old Sarabeth life had always been difficult.   Her mom had overwhelming difficulties with depression that overshadowed the family.   Luckily for Sarabeth, her best friend Liz – who lived across the street in upscale Palo Alto, California – had a loving and good-natured family that helped to balance her life.   This difficult yet somewhat stable life was destroyed when Sarabeth’s mom committed suicide.   In this case, Liz’ family took her in and provided a home when Sarabeth’s father fled to the East Coast.

Despite years of loving friendship from Liz, Sarabeth nearly wallows in self-pity and neediness despite her outward good looks.   Her choices in men run to ones who are married with children.   Her career is limited to small artsy projects and a meek existence in a somewhat-dilapidated cottage behind another house in Berkeley.   The real challenge comes when Liz’ daughter acts on her own suicidal impulses.   Liz is unable to grasp how her robotic take on life has failed her daughter.   The supportive friendship between Sarabeth and Liz falls apart.

Given the remarkable parallels, these two tales could not be more dissimilar.   Both of these authors are well-known and very successful; however, Jennifer Weiner demonstrates her ability to craft engaging, sympathetic, and dare I say,  spunky characters.   This reviewer’s attention was fully focused on Ruthie and her life while Sarabeth provoked a slight revulsion due to her clueless self-pity and lack of empathy.   Ann Packer chose to portray a pair of lifeless and clueless women whose plights evoked barely a stirring of compassion.   In fact, a song title for a review of this book could easily have been, Get Over It.

As always, the narrators contributed significantly by literally setting the tone for the listener.   Olivia Thirlby gave Ruthie in The Next Best Thing a youthful, optimistic and somewhat naive voice.   She drew this listener in and brought out feelings of caring and hope for Ruthie and Grandma Trudy.

Conversely, Cassandra Campbell’s pervasive monotone was heavy and lacked the necessary inflections that produce engagement in the listener.   To her credit, Campbell had a difficult assignment as she portrayed Sarabeth, Liz and her daughter.

The Next Best Thing is Highly Recommended, while Songs Without Words has a limited audience – folks who don’t mind devoting the time and money this difficult story requires.

Ruta Arellano

These audiobooks were purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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The Book of Jobs

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster, $35.00, 656 pages)

“When Steve Jobs speaks, it is with the enthusiasm of seeing the future and making sure it works.”   Fortune magazine in the late 1970s

“I had a very lucky career, a very lucky life.   I’ve done all that I can do.”   Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson (originally entitled, iSteve: The Book of Jobs) is an engaging biography that’s unique in that it allows us to get to know the man even more than the ultra-legend.   This is the amazingly true story of the person who was given up for adoption at birth, and went on to run the most valuable company on the face of the earth.   Although his contemporary and life-long rival Bill Gates outgained him in personal wealth, Jobs succeeded in earning the respect of both computer technology experts and the average consumer as the developer and producer of increasingly better, always innovative products.

Jobs and Gates were two of the individuals – along with Steve Wozniak – who were more or less present at the creation of the personal computer (PC) age.   Jobs and “Woz” were original members of The Homebrew Computer Club, an informal association in Menlo Park that had a hundred or so members; a club that heard a presentation by a young Gates from the Seattle region.   The Whole Earth Catalog was then popular (some of you will need to ask your parents about it), and Jobs was to adopt its motto as one of his guideposts in life, “Stay hungry.   Stay foolish.”

As Isaacson finely illustrates in this account, Jobs was never afraid to make mistakes with his early and later Apple Computer products – he was to learn and absorb valuable lessons from each of his mistakes right up to the time of “Antennagate” with the iPhone (“Has Apple’s Self-Destruction Begun?” was one of the headlines critiquing Jobs’ decision-making early this year).   If Jobs had been a college football coach, he would likely have been one that rarely called for a punt on fourth down; he would have often elected to go for post-TD two-point conversions.   When it came to beating his competitors, Jobs wanted to “leave no doubt.”

“The journey is the reward.”   Steve Jobs

While this book is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the PC and Silicon Valley, it gives us just enough information to understand where Apple fit in among its hardware, software and search technology alternatives such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq, Google, Oracle, Adobe and others.   If you’ve read numerous histories of the era, you will likely be surprised to see how both Larry Ellison and Bill Gates come off as nothing less than gentlemen in this telling.   Ellison was especially close to Jobs, even offering to buy-out Apple Computer after Jobs’ ouster.   But Isaacson is not afraid to show us that Jobs was a human with flaws.   In addition to possessing a temper which he claimed to be unable to control, Jobs “tended to be generally dismissive of philanthropic endeavors.”   This was the case even though his wife founded College Track, an organization making efforts to help economically disadvantaged kids get into college.   Jobs never visited College Track’s after-school centers in the poor high schools where the program was (and is) located.

Like a hammer that sees everything in sight as a nail, Jobs also tended to view technology as the solution to every one of society’s difficult problems…  A very ill Jobs was to personally lecture President Obama on his view that all education should be digital and interactive (physical classrooms, teachers and whiteboards arguably being obsolete); though, in fairness, Bill Gates has made similar comments – some of which are quoted in Steve Jobs.

Isaacson clearly and comprehensively makes his case that  Jobs belongs up there with Edison and Ford as one of the greatest business leaders in American history.   He was a visionary, a big picture guy who could also master the smallest details.   He was a technological artist who was to identify with both fuzzy inventor-creators and detail-oriented engineers.   And he always understood that a sharp focus is the basic key to leadership, “Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.”

“…he was a brilliant guy with great design taste and great engineering taste.”   Bill Gates

One of Jobs’ ultimate victories was the knowledge that his adopted father had become enormously proud of his successes and achievements.   This fine and detailed account, an initial draft of history, well makes the case that Jobs (creator of the most successful ever consumer product launches) was a man of whom the entire world was proud.   What he sought as his own less than humble legacy was to come true; he sought “…a legacy that would awe people.   A dual legacy, actually: building innovative products and building a lasting company.”

Steve Jobs – the man who saw the future and built it for us.  

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer as a Nook Book download.   It is also available in hardcover form, as a Kindle Edition download, and in abridged and unabridged audiobook versions.

Note: According to this biography, Steve Jobs once met in the late 70s with a class of Stanford University students and showed them a prototype of a laptop computer.   He informed them that this was the type of PC that Apple would be building and selling in the 1980s.   And Apple did so.   Years later, he told a different class at Stanford that they would one day be using PCs “the size of a book.”   And now we have 7″, 8.9″, 9.4″, 9.7″ and 10.1″ tablet PCs. 

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It’s All in the Game

Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens (Oceanview Publishing)

Jason weighed the situation for a moment, and then decided to risk jumping out of character.   “Pisa isn’t in the game,” he typed.   Very quickly, the voice responded.   “This isn’t a game.”

Fortuna is a rollicking E-ticket ride from first-time author-musician-technology expert Michael Stevens.   This is the story of Jason Lind, a computer science major at Stanford.   Jason is brilliant but bored and then he discovers the web-based game of Fortuna.   As in Second Life, Fortuna offers the chance for Jason to re-create himself.   The digital version of Jason is a living, breathing, avatar in medieval Florence, Italy.   However, playing the game has its costs – financially, time-wise and to Jason’s relationships…

The game of Fortuna eventually so absorbs Jason that he faces losing his teaching assistant position at The Farm and – quite possibly – the prospect of dropping out of school.   One aspect of Fortuna is gambling; real people gamble for riches and status for their digital persona.   But when the gamble is lost, debts must be paid off in true American dollars.   The penalty to fail to pay one’s debts is death.

Jason’s huge debts cause him to take a job at the high-tech Silicon Valley company GPC, where his late father worked.   Jason’s uncle heads the company that is rumored to have ties to organized crime.   GPC provides some immediate funds and protection for Jason but he may not be safe anywhere.

Eventually, Jason must run for his life as he faces threats from both inside the game of Fortuna (“You are in danger.”), and in real life.   Jason’s father – one Nicholas Fabonacci – gave 50 million dollars to Stanford before dying under mysterious and questionable circumstances.   Was Fabonacci – whose name graces a newer building on the campus in Palo Alto – killed and, if so, will Jason share his fate?

Perhaps the best aspect of this computer technology-mystery-thriller is that the reader will not anticipate the ending in advance.   Fortuna is about a massive struggle between good and evil – Machiavellian in nature.   Which one wins in the end?   You will have to read the 290 pages of Fortuna to find out the answer.

Highly recommended.   Fortuna is a game worth playing and a unique tale that is well worth reading. “Wild and addicting!”   Shane Gericke (Cut to the Bone)

Fortuna will be released on Monday, May 3, 2010.   A review copy was provided by Oceanview Publishing.

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Waiting for McLean Stevenson

Cakewalk: A Memoir by Kate Moses

“The byproduct of suffering, if you’re lucky, is appreciation…  My windfall has always been a sweet tooth, the gold watch that deflected the bullet aimed straight at my heart.”

I was more than 50 pages into reading a galley of Cakewalk before I realized that this is a non-fiction memoir.   At the start it reads like a novel that might have been written by Anne Tyler or Anna Quindlen, although I should have taken a clue from its overly upbeat nature.   “Mom, did you know the words ‘treat’ and ‘threat’ are separated by just one letter?”   But the tone shifted before many more pages had been turned.

Kate Moses was in first grade in 1969 and this re-telling of her life story reads like a memorial to an earlier time, the 1950’s.   It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that Moses grew up living in several places including Palo Alto, Petaluma, Sonoma, outside of Philadelphia (where the Main Line ended), Virginia and Fairbanks, Alaska.   She also had relatives in San Francisco and Dayton, Ohio (“…along every road in Ohio the corn stood high as an elephant’s eye.”)

This initially appears to be an ode to food, the many treats and meals that an overweight young girl took in growing up.   She sees a cross-country trip as “an opportunity for reunion with Howard Johnson’s coconut cake.”   And she “spent every cent I was given on candy and pink Hostess Sno Balls.”   The impression that this is all about food is given further credence by a recipe that concludes each chapter.   Yet the food talk is a cover.

“My family was totally screwed up…”

This memoir is, to a great extent, about the pain of growing up.   Moses’ parents had a very unhappy marriage.   Her father was an overly serious man and her mother was fun-loving.   It did not make for a good mix.   One fault with the telling is that Moses makes a few too many negative references to her father.   He was “a rigid bullying husband…” and a violent father who caught his wife in “the stranglehold of… marriage” due to his “brutalizing domination.”   The reader gets the point after the first couple of references.

This brings up the issue of editing.   All in all, this is an entertaining read but not so much that the typical reader will want to stick with it for 368 pages.   It could easily have been shortened by a third of its length, and there is a bit too much repetition.   Ah, and a minor point, some of Peter Frampton’s lyrics are quoted incorrectly.

“It was the year we started waiting for McLean Stevenson…”

Still, there are some very entertaining stories included in Cakewalk, some of which prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction.   Kate’s mother fantasized about being rescued by the actor McLean Stevenson, and she eventually was arrested – or rather, detained – while visiting the White House after being caught taking something from Pat Nixon’s bathroom!

Further, if you absolutely love food more than life itself, there are plenty of intriguing descriptions here of meals and snacks.   In fact, this autobiography is gorged with tales of food consumption.   Then there are the recipes to try out.   Be sure to try the one for chocolate chip cookies!

Cakewalk will be released on May 11, 2010.   An advance review copy was provided by The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House.

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We Are Family: A Review of The Wednesday Sisters

Wednesday largeThis is a very good, charming tale about five women who meet in the late 1960s at a park in a city with an almost perfect climate – Palo Alto, California.   They first meet on September 6, 1967, when they are presumably in their twenties.   The book takes us along with them through the next seven years.   These were turbulent times in our country – from Vietnam to the beginnings of the feminist movement to Watergate – matched by the turbulence in the lives (and loves) of these five friends.

The friends have one thing in common, which is that they all would like to write and earn their living as professional writers; this during a period when being a wife and mother was expected to be enough.   Even without the notes attached to the Target Bookmarked version, one would guess that author Meg Waite Clayton told more than a bit of her own true life story here.   The best thing to this reader is that one does not have to be female to identify with the story and the trials of its protagonists.  

The tale, while not perfect, is well written enough to make you want to keep turning the pages.   Was it close to perfect?   Well, no…   There were at least two or three scenes in the book – romance directed – that could well have been excised.   Counterbalancing this, there were two or three scenes that touched the heart and soul – not just a bit, but absolutely.

At its end, this is a story about surviving – survival being greatly assisted by love, friendship, tolerance, hopes, dreams, faith…   and the belief that tomorrow will be even better than today.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Coming Up Next…

Wednesday smallOur review of The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton.

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