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Blind Tasting: On the Net, even the winerati don't know you're a dog Paperback – September 15, 2010
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About the Author
A.C. Houston is a linguist and programmer who has worked on artificial intelligence systems and a semantic search engine. She currently resides in Boston, MA. You can visit her blog about language at http://wordtravelstheblog.com
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I'll admit that I was skeptical that a book about a wine tasting dog could actually be pulled off in a way that wasn't ridiculous, but the author does in fact pull it off. There are some technical sections in the book that make the story possible that that are explained in such a way that makes me wonder why wine tasting dogs aren't a reality.
Well written and thoughtful, Blind Tasting was an enjoyable read. While it isn't a book that I'll read again and again, I was impressed with the author's style, technical skills and ability to share her many passions through the pages of a novel.
Initially the book was difficult for me to get into. Not because it was boring or poorly written. It wasn't. It's just that I'm not very fluent in "geek speak" and that was the first thing that jumped off the page at me in paragraph one, chapter one. I'm also not the most computer literate person and so, knowing this, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to read slower. This way I could hopefully better understand phrases like "plenoptic illumination function" or "NP-complete." *chuckle* Don't worry; the characters don't talk like that all the time.
Let me move on to the "meat and potatoes" of the story. Cory Wilder is the main character and he exemplifies the meaning of the word "geek." Three guesses who used that memorable phrase "plenoptic illumination function..." Besides being incredibly smart, he's also attractive; he has a great job and a gorgeous girl-friend. What more could a guy, geek or otherwise, really ask for? Unfortunately Cory's world is suddenly turned upside down. He has two choices. He can sit around and mope or he can pick himself up and start putting his life back together. One evening he comes up with a verifiably crazy idea. Can he train his beloved dog to identify and match wines? His two best friends, Dawn and Rob, throw themselves wholeheartedly into seeing if they can make this project work. I'm not going to provide any more of the story but I'd be willing to bet the title of the book probably makes more sense now...
In closing, I'm giving "Blind Tasting" a five-star rating. I don't normally give out five's but I feel this book deserves every one of them. It was well written. The premise was unique. The story was interesting albeit unusual and, truth be told, I couldn't put it down. It was also apparent throughout the book that the author, A. C. Houston, is extremely knowledgeable about computer technology, biochemistry, wines and dogs. I felt "Blind Tasting" was kind of like Sherlock Holmes meets Nancy Drew meets MacGyver.
This is a clever tale of Cory Wilder, a disgruntled Stanford PhD who jumps ship when their visual search startup changes course to follow the herd developing mobile phone applications. After half-heartedly interviewing other tech companies, and getting dumped a couple of times in the process by his gold-digging hottie girlfriend, the intrepid Cory decides to try his hand combining his two loves: Shepherd-Lab mix "Snoots" and wine. Taking advantage of a dog's superhero olfactory capabilities, Cory teaches Snoot to differential and match wine types, starting a blog that virtually overnight becomes an Internet and wine-world hit. The bar is raised when Cory is invited to a high profile Napa tasting - a dilemma solved when Cory poses as "the blind taster" and super-nose Snoots his service dog. Far fetched? Yeah, but fun - and hey, you couldn't really make dinosaurs from blood in fossilized mosquitoes, either.
So as a guy who's lived the valley life, done venture-backed startups, loves dogs (and has a shep-lab mix), and spends a lot of time in the wine country, Houston has a lot to offer. It's always fun reading about the neighborhoods we haunt, the thinly veiled dives and posh hangouts of the rich and would-be famous, and comparing tasting notes on the classic California vintages. But on the other hand, my typical tastes run more to action and explosions, tension and suspense, gratuitous violence with scant social redeeming value. Well, maybe I'm not that one dimensional, but I care less about bodice-ripping relationships and romance while Victoria's Secret model-class women moon over "broad shoulders over muscled backs" or "Rob's well-toned triceps." Nothing wrong with that, but at the risk of sounding sexist, my guess is this is more chick lit than not, and since that his not typically my genre, it would be unfair of me to criticize "Blind Tasting" for not meeting standards that it never pretended to have.
On balance, a fast and entertaining read that stretches Silicon Valley's culture on the margins to make the points, complemented with a cast almost cartoonish in stereotype - but playfully so. The right audience will get a kick out of the hijinks and enjoy a peak behind the Silicon Valley curtain, and may even get into the drama of Dawn and Toby or Rob, or Corey and Becca vs Julie. For me, back to the 'splosions.