Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tracking Beer

After taking four posts and almost two months to cover my recent trip to Colorado, I am also almost two months behind on updating my Beer List. Granted, I did squeeze in a post about a beer tasting at the Wine Merchant in Cary, but now it is time to bring the list up-to-date. I have previously lamented about not doing the Beer List chronologically. In fact, I actually used the exact words "previously lamented" in a previous post. Unfortunately, the Beer List started as a Blogger gadget at the bottom of the page, and I did not think to include dates when I first started.

While I like the idea of tracking beers consumption like at the Flying Saucer downtown, I never really thought I would get up to the one hundred beers required to get a plate on their wall. Now, my Beer List is approaching 700 entries which is another nice round number. I am confident that I will be exceeding that number with my backlog of pending entries. However, I really do not know if I will be able to tell exactly which beer reaches that magic number. In addition to my normal tweets, I have two empty variety pack boxes from previously mentioned Blue Moon's fall seasonal pack and the Samuel Adams Harvest Collection Variety Pack, as well as also a list of brews from another recent beer tasting at the Wine Merchant.

Number 691 on the list will be a draft of Sour In The Rye from the Bruery located in Placentia, California. Number 692 will be a pint of Hell Yes Ma'am, a Belgian-style golden ale from Raleigh Brewing Company which is located right here in Raleigh, North Carolina. Next will be a draft of Double Don Golden Lager which is ... ummm... well... watermelon-infused. It is from Deep River Brewing Company which is located in nearby Clayton, NC. Number 694 will be a bottle of Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter from Redhook Ale Brewery located in Seattle in the state of Washington.

It is at this point that I remember that I have already added the brews from the previous beer tasting at the Wine Merchant to the Beer List. That event actually occurred after I consumed the beers listed in the paragraph above. To resolve that issue, we can just subtract five or so from the numbers above and probably also the next couple. It is also possible that one of the brews from that tasting was actually the 700th beer which would make this whole post a moot point. However, I am not going to worry about that technicality.

Number 695 will be a draft of Reverb Imperial Pilsner from Boulevard Brewing Company which is located in Kansas City, Missouri. Numbers 696 and 697 will both be from Ballast Point Brewing Company located in San Diego, CA. Their Tongue Buckler is an imperial red ale. I also had seemed to be a version of their Black Marlin Porter brewed with cocoa and chipotle peppers.

After some additional research, I have discovered that the brews from the beer tasting at the Wine Merchant fit right here chronologically. The numbering should be correct from here, so now we can stop doing all that subtracting in our heads.

Number 698 will be a draft of 4042 Stout from previously mentioned Deep River Brewing Company. Number 699 will be a pint of Crazy Pils from Aviator Brewing Company. I enjoyed that pint while touring their brewery over in the oddly-named town Fuquay-Varina. That bring us to entry number 700 on the beer list which I am pretty confident is a draft I had of Coronado Brewing Company's 17th Anniversary Ale. Coronado Brewing is, not surprisingly, located Coronado, California.

I have made it to 700 beers on my list. Of course, I still have a month's worth of backlogged entries including the two seasonal variety packs and the more recent beer tasting. I need to get cracking.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Colorado Trip 2013: Days Six and Seven

This post will be my fourth and final entry covering my trip with my girlfriend Sara to Colorado. In the first post, I discussed our first and second days visiting with my sister, nephew and niece. My second post on this topic covered days three and four which saw us journeying up to a cabin in the Rockies Mountains. The third post discussed the fifth day. On that fifth day, we drove back from the Rockies.

Sara and I had the sixth day of our visit mostly to ourselves. We decided to borrow my sister's car and drive into downtown Boulder. The main drag in downtown Boulder is Pearl Street. We found a place to park the car on the street in a residential area a few blocks from Pearl Street and walked the rest of the way. We walked up and down Pearl including stretch known as the Pearl Street Mall which is closed off to traffic. We stopped by several of the eclectic shops along the way and picked up gifts for April and her family. Sara also bought gifts for friends who were watching her cat while she was away.

Eventually, it was past lunchtime, and we were past hungry. We were looking for a place to eat that had a local flavor, but we did not find anything that excited us. Instead, we ended up at West Flanders Brewing Company which is located at the western end of the Pearl Street Mall. The location was familiar to me because I had visited during my trip back in 2011. The location was previously home to a BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse. I found out that the BJ's had since moved to a new location a couple of miles down the road, and in 2012, West Flanders took over their previous location on Pearl Street.

With her lunch, Sara ordered a pint of Tree Hugger Organic Amber from Asher Brewing Company. I helped her with it enough to feel comfortable adding it to my Beer List. I had promised myself that for lunch I would not have another buffalo burger along with another beer sampler, but that is exactly what I had. I believe West Flanders tries to focus on Belgian-style ales as their name would indicate. I had four of their tasters, the Trippel Lutz, Third Kingdom IPACanniption Pale Ale, and Angry Monk. The Trippel Lutz is obviously a Trippel. The Canniption and Third Kingdom are an American-style pale ale and an American-style IPA respectively. The Angry Monk is a Belgian-style pale ale, but the brewery's webpage has a humorous story about how their Angry Monk was originally called a "Trappist-style Ale."

Day seven was getaway day for Sara and me. Our flight back to Raleigh was delayed for a bit, so we had time to grab a snack and, of course, a beer or two. At Timberline Steaks and Grille in the Denver International Airport, she and I grabbed a couple of seats at the bar. I enjoyed a couple of brews from Odell Brewing Company located in Fort Collins, Colorado. I had the Odell IPA and the Odell 90 Shilling Ale. Then we boarded a plane and flew home.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me (James Bond 10)
The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In my opinion, the grand master Ian Fleming swung and missed on this one. I suppose one should not expect an author to hit a gland slam every time out, nor should one expect every book in a series to live up to the previous works. There can be duds, and this is one.

The main character and narrator is Viv Michaels, a young French Canadian who was sent to finishing school in England by her aunt. After school, she spends a few years in Chelsea. After a brief return to Quebec, she departs on a journey down the United States on her Vespa motor scooter.

I do not think having a female character narrate a James Bond thriller is a bad idea, and I appreciate the author taking a risk with this popular series. Unfortunately, that that risk just does not pan out in this book. Perhaps if the narrator had been a femme fatale, the idea would have worked much better. In this case, the first half of the novel basically reads how I think a bad Harlequin romance would open.

James Bond does not make his appearance until about midway through the story. The most interesting part of the whole work is one chapter that explains how Bond has come to arrived at a motel in the Adirondack Mountains. This one chapter almost makes this book an actual spy novel. I think a fleshed out version of Bond's adventure up to that point should have been the meat of this work.

After arriving at the motel, Bond finds our narrator in some trouble. Viv has been working at the motel ever since stopping a few weeks earlier, and now that the tourist season has ended and the main proprietors have left for the winter, she is manning the place on her own. Needlessly to say, Bond helps her out of her jam.

While the last quarter of the book is exciting, it does not compensate for the mind-numbing first half nor the tease of an spy novel that is the Bond's backstory. I am ready to put this one behind me and move on the next in the series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Colorado Trip 2013: Day Five

I am continuing my chronicle of Sara's and my recent trip to visit my sister and her family in Colorado. This will be the third post. The first two posts are available here and here.

On the fifth day of the trip and our third day staying in the Rockies Mountains, we all made a visit to Breckenridge, Colorado. We stopped by the town's Riverwalk area. There happened to be a marathon and half-marathon being held in Breckenridge that weekend, so we stopped and watched some runner finish their runs. Then we walked up and down the main street of town and hit a few of the tourist-trap shops.

We made it down the street to Breckenridge Brewery in time for lunch. I previously discussed Breckenridge Brewery in my post about my visit to Colorado in 2011 to see my sister. During that trip, she picked up a 12-bottle sampler pack that contained four of their brews. For lunch on this day, I once again ordered a tasting sampler. This sampler included three of the four beers from the sampler pack of bottles. Therefore, I had already tried their Agave Wheat, Vanilla Porter, and flagship Avalanche Ale. I seemed to have liked them from the bottle back then, and I enjoyed them as well on this occasion as drafts.

Their fifth main line brew, Oatmeal Stout, was also on the taster sampler as was the 471 Double IPA from their small batch collection. The other three brews on the tasting list seem less widely available. The menu says their Trademark Pale Ale is a local favorite. The menu also tells me that Zwickel Bier (or zwickelbier) is an unfiltered German-style lager. Then there was the Roasted Habanero IPA. Even with three of us taking sips, it took awhile for us to finish that one.

After lunch, we took the gondola up to the ski resort at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the gondola closed for a bit due to some weather, so we ended up taking a bus back down to the town of Breckenridge. Of course, by the time we got back down, the gondola was running once more.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Colorado Trip 2013: Days Three and Four

After a hiatus to discuss more recent beer consumption, this post is a continuation of the chronicle of Sara's and my trip to visit my sister and her family in Colorado. My first post on this subject covered the first two days of our stay. In this post, I will cover the next two days.

My sister's in-laws have a cabin in the Rocky Mountains near the tiny town of Alma, Colorado. On the third day of our visit, we drove up to the mountains. We stopped on the way for lunch at an restaurant in Fairplay, Colorado. I enjoyed a nice draft beer with my meal. Not unexpectedly, my cellphone got spotty coverage while I was in the Rockies. My texts to Twitter were randomly sent and posted whenever there was some decent coverage. I believe the beer I had at that restaurant was First Cast IPA from Elevation Beer Company which is located in Poncha Springs, Colorado. Honestly, I do not remember it being anything particularly special.

When we got to the cabin, I found that there was leftover beer in the refrigerator. I discovered a bottle of Caramel Apple Spiced Ale from Blue Moon which was probably from one of their Brewmaster's Seasonal Sample Packs for fall. I later purchased that sampler myself back in North Carolina, and I am drinking a bottle as I type this. The taste is sweet like caramel and has autumnal spices including, I would say, nutmeg.

On day four, we all got up early, climbed into my sister's Subaru Outback, and ventured into the Pike National Forest. Due to recent rain, some of the mountain roads were impassible for the Outback, but we eventually found our way to Kite Lake. The views were absolutely beautiful, but after awhile, we were ready from some lunch (and perhaps some beer).

We traveled down the mountain to Buena Vista, Colorado. We decided to have some lunch at Eddyline Restaurant & Brewery. Of course, I also decided to have their beer sample. It was not my first beer sampler of the trip, and it would not be the last. There is a photo of me on Facebook with a wooden paddle holding eight tasting glass. However, I only have the six brews shown in the accompanying photo plus one seasonal offering, their Innerglow Red Chile Porter. I do not know what the eighth glass would have been.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Keg Tapping

I am skipping the continuation of my most recent trip to Colorado to cover another beer tasting event at the Wine Merchant in Cary, NC. I previously discussed a beer event at the shop back in March when I won a bag full of beer. Sara and I have since enjoyed another event which focused on various types of IPA brews. This "Tap Takeover" event focused exclusively on beers from Olde Hickory Brewery which, not surprisingly, is located in Hickory, NC. This tasting featured five brews from Olde Hickory, and while I have currently have two of their brews on the Beer List (the Imperial Stout and Table Rock Pale Ale), all five of these offerings were new to me. Unfortunately, this tasting occurred over two weeks ago, so as with my previous post, I will be depending heavily on the tasting sheet so graciously made available for the tasting.

The first brew that we sampled from Olde Hickory was the Single Hop Comet Pale Ale. As stated in the name, this brew features a single hop which is the rare Comet hop. Wikipedia tells me the Comet hop is American-grown and was "originally bred for its bittering characteristics". The group with whom Sara and I enjoyed the tasting mostly thought this beer had an herbal smell and first taste that led into a bitter finish and aftertaste. The tasting sheet tells me that this is the first in a serial of single-hop ales from the brewery. It also tells me this brew is 7.0% ABV.

Our second sampling was Olde Hickory's fall seasonal offering, Oktoberfest. This brew is a Märzen which is a pale lager. The tasting sheet notes that seven different malts were used in this brew while Olde Hickory's website tells me Noble hops were used to balance the malts. This drinkable brew is only 6.0% ABV.

The third beer to be sampled was their Death by Hops which I have previously managed to avoid. As expected, this Double IPA is a super-hoppy brew. The tasting sheets informs me that five different hops originating from the West Coast are used in this beer. Those five are Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, Centennial, and the popular Cascade. Did I mention this one was hoppy? Their webpage does mention that two types of barley, Carapils and Crisp Crystal, were also used in the brewing process. This one is another that is at 7.0% ABV.

Next was even more hops with the Redeemer which is one of the brewery's limited releases. This brew is an Imperial IPA and weighs in at a hefty 10.0% ABV. It also counts five West Coast hops (Columbus, Centennial, Amarillo, Cascade, and Zythos) among its ingredients list. Not only did I have to work my way through my portion, I had to drink most of Sara's since she decided to go ahead and move on to the next and final offering.

Rounding out the five taps was David The Bat which is a Scotch ale. The tasting sheet tells me this brew was the winner of a homebrewing competition hosted by Olde Hickory. This one is 8.0% ABV.

This was another fun and interesting beer tasting, and I am ready for the next beer event at the shop later this month.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Colorado Trip 2013: Days One and Two

Near the end of last month, my girlfriend Sara and I flew to Colorado for my now annual visit with my sister April and her family. I previously posted about my trips around Labor Day last year and back in April of 2011. Colorado is well known as one of the best states for beer. My previous two Colorado-related posts were heavy on beer consumption, but this trip topped both of those in that regard. So much so in fact, that I am going to break up this trip into several more-easily-digestible posts.

On the first day, I was happy to discover that my sister has a sample pack in her refrigerator from Left Hand Brewing Company. I tried a bottle of the Stranger American Pale Ale which was new to me and a bottle of their flagship Sawtooth Ale which was already on my Beer List. Left Hand's brewery is located in Longmont, Colorado.

On the afternoon of the second day of our visit, Sara, April and I had ourselves a little outing. We started at Avery Brewing Company's tap room in Boulder. I decided to have four IPA tasters. Their standard IPA is on the Beer List in almost every imaginable form. The other three samples, Simcoe/Chinook IPA, Summer’s Day IPA, and duganA IPA were all specials of the tap room. It was interesting to taste the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the four flavors of IPA.

The next stop on our second day beer outing was Twelve Degree Brewing (or 12° Brewing per their logo) in Louisville, Colorado. They seemed to be a relatively new microbrewery. They focus almost exclusively on Belgian-style beers which I appreciate. The three of us sampled six of their own brews plus two from guest taps. The six of their beers that we tried were the Soleil Saison which is a Belgian farmhouse ale, Walter's White which is a which is a Belgian-style white ale, Brabant Tripel, Foxx Rougge, Sorach which was another farmhouse ale, and Sorach L'Orange which was brewed with oranges. The two guest brews were Powder Daze Pale (now Powder Run Pale) from Echo Brewing in Frederick, Colorado and Hop Savant from the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project out of Denver.

Our next stop before getting some ice cream was Lucky Pie Pizza & Taphouse which is also in Lewisville. In addition to some great food including their hand-made pizzas, I elected to go with their Colorado beer sampler. The sampler included Tivoli Helles Lager. Tivoli Brewing Company is located in Denver. The sampler also included Hoppy Bock Lager from New Belgium Brewing which is located in Fort Collins, Colorado (and soon to be Asheville, North Carolina) and Moirai IPA from FATE Brewing Company in Boulder.

After enjoying some ice cream and before heading back to April's house, we dropped in at Gravity Brewing which was down the street and across the railroad tracks. While there, I had an Ante Meridiem Espresso Stout and a Schwag Session Ale.

I will cover the rest of my Colorado trip in a subsequent post (or posts). However, I did want to mention that Boulder and the surrounding areas were hit hard by devastating flooding a couple of weeks after Sara and I were safely back home in North Carolina. I am happy to report that my sister, her family and their house were all spared any harm from the flooding.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Secret Pilgrim

Secret Pilgrim Secret Pilgrim by John le Carré

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is eighth and final of John le Carré's works featuring his most well-known character, George Smiley. I have read five of the previous seven novels, and of those previous works, I think this one is most similar to The Looking Glass War in the fact that Smiley is not the main character but plays an ancillary role. The main character is a fellow spy by the name of Ned who due to the outcome of the Russia House as come to serve as the headmaster of the training academy for new agents. Ned has invited the now-retired Smiley to visit the school and address the new group of recruits.

This book does not read like a single coherent novel but rather like a group of episodic short stories or chronological vignettes. With the background of Smiley speaking to the agents-in-training, Ned reminisces about his own career starting with his first adventure as a young intelligence officer. Each episode is interesting own its own and helps develop Ned into a full-featured character. I suppose the aim of the overall novel is to highlight the themes of the Smiley series as it brings the series to a close.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Another Great Idea

Last Wednesday, the National Football League announced changes to the Pro Bowl starting this season. There will be multiple changes including eliminating kickoffs and adding two-minute warnings at the end of the first and third quarters. The most prominent change is dropping the long-established NFC and AFC affiliations. Instead of selecting players based on conference, the players for the two teams will be selected by a fantasy-type draft. This change is similar to my suggestion for the Pro Bowl as part of my proposal for improving the NFL and is similar to the format adopted by the NHL several years ago for its All-Star Game.

To be honest, my suggested change to the Pro Bowl was necessitated by my proposal for dropping the AFC and NFC. I am hopeful that the actual changes to the Pro Bowl will foreshadow a future elimination of the two historical conferences. Perhaps changing the Pro Bowl format is just the first step in a major reorganization of the league.

I previously never got around to fleshing out the details of the last component of my NFL proposal with addressed managing the broadcast rights for NFL games, To finally finish up my NFL proposal, I am going to write about this last part (for now at least). Below is a summary of the first six points followed by the seventh.

NFL Proposal Summary
  1. Eliminating Conferences: Drop the NFC and AFC and change from the eight four-team divisions to four eight-team divisions by merging the divisions with the same direction names
  2. Realignment: Rotate Baltimore, Indianapolis and Miami to form more geographically-correct divisions
  3. Relocation: Not a fixed proposal, but the suggested divisional alignment would be better able to handle future relocation of teams
  4. Regular Season Schedule: Teams would have 16- or 17-game schedules composed of two games versus each divisional opponent plus two or three games against teams from other divisions
  5. Playoff Tournament: Fixed-bracket postseason tournament with semifinal winners continuing to receive the George Halas and Lamar Hunt Trophies
  6. Pro Bowl: Players for the two Pro Bowl teams are selected from a pre-established pool in a televised fantasy-style draft - Done

7. Television Schedule

The current contacts with the various television networks would have to be adapted to handle the first part of my NFL proposal that eliminates the AFC and NFC. The two contracts for broadcasting NFL games on Sundays at 1 PM and 4:30 PM are based around the two conferences. The Fox Broadcasting Company currently owns the rights to televise NFC games while CBS has the rights to the AFC games. For inter-conference games, the broadcast rights are based on conference of the visiting team. There are separate television contracts for the time slot on Thursdays at 8:30 PM (currently held by the NFL Network), Sundays at 8:30 PM (currently held by NBC), and Mondays at 8:30 PM (currently held by ESPN).

Under my plan, the networks would basically buy the rights to the currently established time slots. The networks would also be allocated a certain number of points for each season. Using these pools of points, there would be an auction for the television rights to each regular-season game. I think there would probably have to be a separate auction to establish the broadcast schedule for postseason games.

In regards to broadcast scheduling, I would also establish a rule that teams located in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones could not be scheduled for regular season games starting at one o'clock Eastern. I do not think scheduling West Coast teams for early kickoffs is fair for the players traveling across the country or the fans of those teams. Unfortunately, there would have to be an exception to this rule for the playoffs since there are a limited number of playoff games and my tournament format forces teams to travel across country.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Searchers

I want to begin by promising my mostly imaginary readers that this post will not be a book review from Goodreads. I have had some free time recently, so I have been able to finish a few books that I had been reading plus had plenty of time to write reviews for them. My three most recent posts were book reviews which makes four straight going back to March and five out of the last six going back to February. Instead of a book review, I am going to discuss a few topics somewhat related to career.

I was contacted recently by a friend I had not seen in a few years. He was the primary organizer of our friendly neighborhood get-togethers. I had thought that he had gotten a new job, and he and his family had moved somewhere out west. Instead, it seems that the job offer fell through, the family had not moved, and he has been busy getting his own business off the ground. He was previously a recruiter for various companies. Now, he is trying his hand as a career consultant. He is also working on a book. He asked me to stop by his office for a conversation. I readily agreed but mostly because his new venture is headquartered in the offices behind his sister-in-law's and her husband's new brewery.

The visit went well. I am glad that he is still in the area, and we discussed getting the get-togethers restarted. Those have fallen off significantly since he stopped participating. Unfortunately, I was never quite clear on his intentions for me. He obviously was looking for assistance with his new business from several different angles. Specifically what he was looking for from me was never quite clear. He mentioned technical help with the company although I assume on a volunteer basis. He was also discretely looking for investors. (However, he has been not-so-discretely searching for funding via the online site Fundly.) Of course, I am also a potential client for his career services and a customer for his book. In the end, I just enjoyed the conversation and the free beer.

In other news, my company has recently gone through a reorganization which included some layoffs. Several people that I know were affected including three in my group. Some of the affected people I know were older, so they were able to take early-retirement. I was switched to another department, but at the moment, my job is safe. In fact, a few months back, I was approached about an open position in a different group under a manager I know pretty well. I interviewed with that manager, was offered the position, and accepted. However, my transition was blocked by the manger of my new department. While you would think being needed that much would be a good thing, I do not think that is the case here. My recent annual rating was only average. I had discussions about a promotion with both my previous and potential managers, but my current manager has not been receptive to that idea. However, I did get a decent raise which helped somewhat salve my disgruntlement.

I also ran into one of my old managers at a recent chapter meeting of my particular professional organization. I have always been friendly with this guy. At our previous company, he and I played on a softball team together. His son and daughter also stepped up to play a few games for the team when we needed some extra players. I started called him "bossman" in the softball field and eventually in the office. He organized outings to hockey games. Unfortunately, I learned that he had just lost his job and was now looking for a new position.

Which brings us to the topic covered during that particular chapter meeting. The presentation just so happened to be from a career counselor. I paid rapt attention and took notes. I am sharing some of his career tips covering résumé-writing and interviewing below.

  • Your résumé should be in a readable font such as 11 point Times New Roman
  • Your name and email address should be at the top of each page on your résumé
  • Have a professional summary instead of an objective statement
  • Research the company to know what they do and what they are looking for
  • Instead of just a résumé, make the document a proposal presenting solutions 
  • Include a list of skills specific to the job posting to which you are responding
  • Address every key word in the description from the job posting
  • Your résumé should be limited to two pages with all the fluff removed
  • Do not list your membership in organizations that are not related to the job posting
  • Be well-groomed with a professional-looking haircut, trimmed fingernails and shined shoes
  • Again, do some research in order to be knowledge about the company
  • Do not under-dress or significantly overdress for the interview
  • Dress a step above how current employees at your potential position in the company dress
  • Answer the "Tell me about yourself" inquiry with a professional response that addresses solutions to the job posting
  • Have prepared questions for the interviewer such as "How does this position contribute to the overall success of the company?"

The speaker was a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, so some of his tips such as the shined shoes reflect that experience. However, he also had experience in the private sector, and some of this tips such as not overdressing the part reflect that.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I has been has been quite a long time since I read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Stardust, and American Gods. In fact, it was several years before I joined Goodreads. However, I remember thoroughly enjoying all three of those novels. (I also thought the movie version of Stardust was great.) I do have to admit that I have not read any of his graphic novels though.

Perhaps it is the length of time that has elapsed or perhaps it is just the prudish American in me, but I do not remember his novels being particularly disturbing or having a heavy reference to sex. With many of the stories and poems in this book, it almost seems that the author is just trying to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. Many of the works either focus on sex directly or relate tangentially and usually in an overly creepy manner. Some other selections might not have concerned sex per se but still managed to relate to genitalia with the male type seemingly more referenced than female. While I really do not think of myself as particularly prudish, all this just did not work for me. However, I did find the various works readable, and almost all of them were thought-provoking which I very much did appreciate.

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe

You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe
You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I swear that I wrote the bulk of this review prior to completing the book. I read most of this book while traveling and wrote my initial thoughts on a sheet of paper from a notepad printed with the name of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where I was staying in Las Vegas. I state this because I wrote the part about Wikipedia before I got to the end of book where in a note at the end of the bibliography, the author states that he, in fact, frequently consulted Wikipedia as part of his research while writing the book. Perhaps that is why the book reads like several Wikipedia articles strung together.

I am somewhat biased I am afraid because I have read several book of the popular-science type and particularly ones covering the beginning of the universe and the development of life. I have read A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Science Class You Wish You Had, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, and of course, Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I feel that any of those authors could have written this book in just a few days using nothing but Wikipedia as a reference.

The universe is immense. The universe is old. The universe is complex. That is all. Carry on. So goes the first meaningful chapter which is a straightforward comparison of size starting at one meter and proceeding ever larger until arriving at the size of the visible universe. In similar fashion, subsequent chapters cover the history of science including the development of the scientific method and measuring devices. A chapter midway through the book mirrors the earlier chapter by starting at 100 centimeters and going down to subatomic particles. Other chapters start at the Big Bang and the birth of the universe and proceed through the development of galaxies including our own Milky Way, then the Solar System and our home planet, and then the development of life on Earth and eventually arriving at the evolution of our own species. The information presented is easily gathered from Wikipedia and is arranged in a basically straightforward manner.

I would like to think that I can appreciate a well-written popular science book. I just do not think this is an example of one.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Manhattan Is My Beat

Manhattan Is My Beat
Manhattan Is My Beat by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Before buying and reading this book, I only knew the title, the author, and that it had a sequel, Death Of A Blue Movie Star, which I had previously bought but have not yet read. Based primarily on the title, this book was definitely not what I was expecting. With a title like Manhattan Is My Beat, I was expecting a film noir-style detective novel in the spirit of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. As a bit of an aside, I have only been reading novels and stories by Jeffery Deaver for a couple of years now. I started around the time he released his James Bond novel. Expecting a spy master in the vein of Ian Fleming, I instead got an excellent detective novelist. Being only halfway through Fleming's Bond novels, I have bought but not yet read Carte Blanche. However, I have no doubt that Deaver did a great job with Bond. I also have no doubt that he could pull off classic hard-boiled detective novels with ease. This particular novel is just not one.

So far, I have read four of Deaver's novels featuring his most famous character, Lincoln Rhyme, plus two of his short story collections, Twisted and More Twisted. I have enjoyed them all. Getting back to this novel, I do not think this work is on par with the other works of his that I have read. This one was first published in 1988 which seems to make it Deaver's first published novel, so perhaps I am grading it on an unfair curve.

The main character in this work goes by the adopted name of Rune and is basically the complete opposite of Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme. While Rhyme has an impressive intellect, is extremely well-educated, and an acknowledged expert in his chosen field of forensics, Rune is naive and mostly uneducated except for a vast knowledge of cinema. From his wheelchair, Rhyme manages to be in control of situations. He manipulates his opponents as well as his allies, and is therefore able to affect the outcome of the plot. Conversely, Rune is the one being manipulated as she bumbles her way through the story, and the outcome turns out to be completely out of her control.

This novel definitely reads like a Deaver novel. It has sections narrated by unknown antagonists, the plot is driven along at rocket speed, and of course, there are a myriad of plot twists with characters being exposed as not being what they originally seemed to be. In the case of this work however, it all seems vastly overdone. The plot feels like it has too many unexpected turns, and seemingly every character is covering a secret or pretending to be somebody else. The result is more like a rough parody of a Deaver novel than the more polished works that readers have come to expect from this author.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the acknowledgement section at the end of this novel, the author mentions that a major motion picture studio was enthusiastic about the work. That was not really surprising to me since this book reads as much like a movie treatment for the next big sci-fi thriller as a science fiction novel. Like many action thrillers, this book has the planet Earth going all to hell with something hunting down all the human beings. Instead of zombies like in AMC's well-known The Walking Dead television series or alien invaders like in TNT's less-well-known Falling Skies, the threat here comes from computers, robots and various computer-controlled devices like cars and tanks. That can easily be surmised from the book's title plus the cover art featuring a zoomed-in robot face. With its robot antagonists, the novel resembles The Matrix and Terminator movie series.

Unlike all of the previously mentioned works which mainly focus on a lone hero or small group of co-located characters, this novel jumps between groups of characters dispersed across the globe. Outside of the initial coalescing of the core groups, the various groups rarely interact directly with the other groups. The primary characters are a pair of Boston brothers. One of the brothers is a sergeant with the local National Guard unit and a natural-born leader. The other is a screw-up and would-be photojournalist. Other protagonists include a United States Congresswoman and her two young children, a construction worker and his wife in New York City, a policeman who is also a Native American tribal leader in Oklahoma, his son who is a robot wrangler in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan, an über-geeky phone phreak in London, and finally a brilliant robot repairman in Japan who is much more comfortable around his robot companions than other flesh-and-blood humans.

The final outcome is known from the prologue, but there are plenty of surprising twists and turns as the story unfolds. Along the way, there are several moments of the hopeful Rodney King "Can we all get along?" variety. Again, this book reads more like a movie than a novel. The characters are the barely-developed, two-dimensional type that are expected in the cinema world but are disappointing in a full-length novel. Of course, I expect fleshing out personalities is difficult with such a widely spread ensemble cast. In summary, this book was an exciting thrill ride but quite disappointing on the character development side.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Big Winner

A few Fridays back, my girlfriend Sara and I attended an evening beer tasting event at the Wine Merchant of Cary. We were to be tasting five different beers. Sara is friends with the guys that work at the shop, and her friend Justin informed her beforehand that the selected brews would have a minimum of 7% ABV. We wisely elected to have some dinner ahead of time. It turns out the minimum ABV of the five selections was not 7% but a hefty 9%. I also expected the pours to be in the two-ounce range based on previous beer tasting. We told the pours were to be half pint, but the pours seemed to be more like three-quarter pint.

My descriptions of the five beers borrows heavily from the tasting sheet that was given out at the beginning. The first beer was Hoppy Daze IPA which is a 9% ABV Belgian-style IPA from Coronado Brewing Company. From the tasting sheet, this West Coast "unfiltered IPA is combined with a unique blend of European grains, a variety of hops, and Belgian yeast to create a lasting and unforgettable taste to its very bitter end."

The second beer was Robert Johnson's Hellhound On My Ale from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery which is located in Milton, Delaware. The tasting sheet says that this 10% ABV beer is a tribute to the legendary blues artist Robert Johnson. Again from the tasting sheet, "100% Centennial hops were used to accentuate and magnify the citrusy notes of the centennial hops."

The halfway point of the tasting lineup was Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy from Thirsty Dog Brewing Company located in the tropical paradise that is Akron, Ohio. This 9.7% ABV Scotch ale "is a deep red, malt-driven, caramel bomb of a beer that has acquired a gorgeous vanilla oak character from time spent in bourbon barrels." Also from the tasting sheet, this brew is "super smooth and rich with layers of toffee and dark fruit." Considering my general distaste for wood-aged beverages of any type, it is no surprise that this was my least favorite of the five.

Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter was the next offering. The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery is located in Farmville, North Carolina which is about 70 miles east of Raleigh. The tasting sheet says this 9% ABV beer's "full-blooded roasty character is balanced by complex alcohol notes," and its taste has "lots of chocolate and roasted coffee bean notes come through."

Bringing up rear was B.O.R.I.S. "The Crusher"  from Hoppin' Frog which is another brewery from Akron, Ohio. According to the tasting sheet, B.O.R.I.S is short for "Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout." This 9.4% ABV oatmeal imperial stout has been described with words like "chocolate, creamy oatmeal, coffee, vanilla, and smoke."

The highlight of the evening for yours truly was the raffle. Everybody was entered to win one of five mystery bags from the shop. I seldom win raffles and drawings, so I actually told Sara to put herself down twice. She declined to do so, and my name was entered. I was surprised to hear my name called as the first "Big Winner." The mystery bag contained a four-pack of mixed beers which included a bottle of Green Flash Grand Cru, a bottle of Moinette Brune from la Brasserie Dupont in Belgium, a bottle of Rodenbach Classic (also from Belgium), and a can of Evil Twin Hipster Ale. I had previously tried the Hipster Ale, so that can happened to end up in a marinate for some tasty steaks.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: The Little Drummer Girl

The Little Drummer Girl
The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read several of John le Carré's works, I feel that his particular forte is creating for his characters environments that have an amazing amount of stress. He ratchets up drama by putting his characters in extremely difficult situations and then continuing to crank up the stress level. Of his novels that I have read, the previous epitome of these super stress levels was The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. However, I think the stress in The Little Drummer Girl tops even that work.

The title character in this book is Charlie, a aspiring English stage actress. While on holiday in Greece with some fellow struggling thespians, the young Charlie encounters a tall, dark and handsome stranger who turns out to be an Israeli spy. The job of Gadi Becker (aka Joseph) is to convince Charlie to take an unique acting opportunity. The Israelis know that Charlie has left-leaning views and through a previous boyfriend has had encounters with members of some extremist groups. The Israeli groups's plan is to have Joseph emulate a captured Palestinian terrorist known as Michel. In this role, he will train Charlie to infiltrate a leftist terrorist group with links to Palestinians. The Israeli spy group's ultimate goal is Michel's brother Khalil who is a major leader in a Palestinian terrorist group. Charlie accepts the opportunity and delves into what she terms "the theater of the real."

I think that the book does a great job of presenting both sides of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is much doubt as to Charlie's true sympathies. In the end, the central question of the book is not on which side of the conflict Charlie will end up or if her mission will be a success. The question is if Charlie will just survive the mission with her sanity intact.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Number 500

While I was busy, I managed to blow past the nice round number 500 on my Beer List. The list currently stands at 505. I have previously lamented about not including dates on the list. I could have also maintained the list in a nice chronological order instead of alphabetical order by the name of the brewery and then the particular brew. Regardless, I believe I have done a good job of using Twitter to record my beer consumption.

Based on my Twitter account, beer number 505 was Fuller's Black Cab Stout. #504 was Fireside Chat from 21st Amendment Brewery located in San Francisco. Number 503 was Luciernaga (or "The Firefly") from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales which is located in Dexter, Michigan. I enjoyed #503 at the Wine Merchant of Cary. Number 502 would be a bottle of Oatmeal Porter from Highland Brewing Company which is located in the up-and-coming brewery town of Asheville, North Carolina. Palate Wrecker from Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego was number 501 on the Beer List.

Finally, number 500 on the list was Blue Law Porter from Epic  Brewing Company which is located in the not-so-well-known brewing town of Salt Lake City. According to the brewery's homepage, they are the first brewery in the state of Utah since Prohibition. Not surprisingly, this is the first beer on the list from that particular state. More surprising is that Utah made the list before 21 other states. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming are still missing from the list.

Random note #1, the single entry on the list for the state of Minnesota is Crispin Cider which is technically not a beer. Random note #2, Rhode Island, the smallest state by area, has one beer on the list, Narragansett Lager from Narragansett Brewing Company located in Providence. Random note #3, South Carolina does not have a beer on the list, but Hipster Ale from Evil Twin Brewing in Denmark is actually brewed by Westbrook Brewing which is located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina which is right outside of Charleston.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tour of Italy

Happy Washington’s Birthday/Presidents’ Day/President’s Day/Presidents Day or whatever this holiday in the middle of February is actually called. For this first time that I remember, the company for which I work has decided to include this day as a corporate holiday. Every year, our company give its employees twelve days off from work to celebrate holidays. Several of those days are fixed. The list of fixed holidays varies from country to country and from year to year. In the United States, the list of fixed holidays always includes Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. Other fixed days are primarily based on what day of the week holidays fall. In previous years, fixed holidays have included New Year's Day, the days before or after Independence Day and Christmas, and New Year's Eve. The remaining unfixed days out of the twelve are flexible holidays for the employees to use as they want. For some reason unknown to me, it was decided this year that today should be a fixed holiday.

I am using part of this day off from work to do a blog post. I have previously posted on and about holidays. I suppose that is when I have the most free time. In comments to my previous post, I mentioned that while I have not been posting as much as I did back in 2010 and 2011, I am hoping to post more this year than I managed last year. My stated goal was two posts per month which would be a total of 24 for the year. We are more than halfway through February, and I am working on only my second post. I will hopefully be cranking up my production in the following months.

I am titling this post "Tour of Italy" after the sampler dinner from the Olive Garden. I have never been to Italy however. Instead, I was recently on a business trip to Orlando, Florida or at least the Orlando area. The conference was at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. The conference was in the convention center connected to the Dolphin while I stayed in the Swan. Some of my coworkers enjoyed the local golf courses, but I am not much of a golfer. The conference also hosted a night at Universal's Islands of Adventure, but I passed on that opportunity.

After spending the day standing in a trade show booth, some of my coworkers and I would invariably end up at Il Mulino New York which is one of the restaurants in the Swan. Il Mulino is an Italian restaurant and thus features Italian wines and beer. Their bar menu included five different brews from Italy. I intended to try all five but instead only tried four. Three of the five beers were from Birrificio Ostiense Artigianale which is located in Rome, Italy. ("Birrificio" is Italian for "brewery.") I had two of the three. Pictured to the right is 'na Biretta Chiara which is a pilsner-style lager. As would be expected, I found it tasty. The second was 'na Biretta Rossa which is tasty bock. I did not try the 'na Biretta Kuasapa which is a pale ale.

The second picture on the right is a bottle of Taquamari which is a unique hefeweizen from Birrificio Pausa Cafe. One of the bartenders at Il Mulino told me about the organization that brews the beer helps rehabilitate inmates from local prisons by giving them an occupation. Pause Cafe is a cooperative located in Saluzzo, Italy that produces coffee, chocolate and beer. The beer itself is made from tapioca, quinoa, amaranth, and basmati rice. The bottle has a good bit of sediment at the bottom. I thought the other bartender had erred when she poured the whole bottle including the sediment into my glass. Interestingly enough, the sediment was not yeast (at least not all of it) as I had expected, but tapioca et al.

I also tried a bottle of ViaEmilia which is another pilsner. This one is from Birrificio Del Ducato which is a craft brewery located in Roncole Verdi Di Busseto, Italy. As I have previously stated, pilsners are easy to drink and this one was. Thus concludes my tour of Italian beers from a bar in a hotel located at Walt Disney World.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beer List 2012

This post is ostensibly a summary of my consumption of new beers in 20012, but it is basically an excuse to show some leftover photos of beer bottles that I took during this past year. In 2010, I tried 148 beers. The next year, I added 150 different brews to my beer list. As I mentioned at the beginning of 2012, instead of having a separate list of beers for 2012, I created a new page that combined the lists from 2010 and 2011. Then I started adding new beers to the combined list. At the end of 2012, Jim's Beer List had grown to a total of 448. Subtracting the 148 from 2010 and 150 from 2011 results in another 150 new brews that I consumed in 2012.

The 448th beer is the top photo on the right. The bottle shown is Mokah which is from Southern Tier Brewing Company. Southern Tier was founded in Lakewood, New York. I did not find an explanation on their webpage as to where the name Southern Tier originated, but I did noticed on Wikipedia that the Village of Lakewood is located in the southwestern corner of the State of New York. The company's webpage for Mokah explains that it is from their Blackwater Series of imperial stouts and is actually a combination of their Jahva and Choklat brews. Since I really enjoyed this smooth and flavorful beer, I think I should add its two component beers to my currently non-existent "Beers To Drink" list.

To digress for a bit, one problem with my beer list that I originally decided to organize the list alphabetically by the name of the brewery. With many breweries combining (for the largest examples, see Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, and Molson Coors), the brewery included on the list can seem a bit arbitrary. When I first created the 2010 list, I wanted to have a sortable table. Those are familiar to people who frequent wiki-based websites such as Wikipedia. Needless to say, I never figured out how to do that with Blogger.

Another problem that I have discovered with the beer list is that I have neglected to include when I first drank each of the beers. I do not think this is a major oversight, but in hindsight, it would be nice information to know. In some cases where I took photos with my cellphone, the date can be found from the file properties of the photos. For instance, I can tell that I took the middle photo on November 9, 2012. I took the photo of this bottle of Singha Beer while I was having lunch with my manager and some coworkers at a Thai restaurant near our office. Singha is brewed by Boon Rawd Brewery which is headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand. I guess that made it appropriate for our Thai lunch.

Unfortunately, that solution does not work when I did not take a picture of the beer or when I take a picute of a bottle of beer but do not drink it until later. That gets us back to Southern Tier. I took the picture of the Mokah bottle on December 20, but I did not drink it until New Year's Eve. An even more dramatic example is their Crème Brûlée Stout. I took the bottom photo on August 19, but I did not get around to drinking the bottle until much later. I do not remember exactly when, but I know it was before I bought and took the photo of the Mokah. By the way, I actually liked the Crème Brûlée better than the Mokah.

Of course, another solution to the date problem would be to check my Twitter page for when I posted about the beer. Unfortunately, I never posted when I actually drank the bottle of Crème Brûlée. Oh well.