Link Dumps 2021-05-16

Is it the third Sunday already? Seems early this month, possibly because there are five Sundays in this May.

Not as many links this month because of that.

Marine Eequipment Adapts for HS2 Project; transport, logistics; It seems that there are points in HS2's route where water access is easier than road access, so they're using barges to help with the transport and construction. It's great to see an existing resource being used, and to see a little innovation for our waterways.

Nestlé threatened with cease-and-desist over alleged illegal water use; politics, capitalism; A company gaming the system so that it can exploit natural resources for its own profits? I'm shocked! Shocked! Well, OK not that shocked. But what I find interesting here is that the measurement was an imprecise one - a number of train cars. Over a century later after the agreement was signed, our train cars have improved and carry over twice the amount that they did in 1909. Calfironia is currently in a long drought, but this doesn't just affect the provision of water to people. Tapping too much from the water table lowers it, making trees and vegetation drier as they have to work harder to get water. Drier trees are more flammable. Basically, the more I look at this the more villanous Nestlé look. Maybe it's just time to cut their losses on this brand?

Beyond Calibri: Finding Microsoft’s next default font; technology, typography; Microsoft are looking at changing the default font used in Microsoft Office. They did this in 2007 to introduce us to Calibri. There have been a lot of words written about this on technology and typography websites, mostly about the fonts in the selection. Their merits and people's opinions have been solidly explored. What I find odd is that nobody is questioning the fundemental issue - should there really be just one typeface for the whole of Office? Surely whilst Word needs a good Serif for lon text, PowerPoint would benefit from a Sans Serif for impact? Whilst experimenting on this I noticed that some spreadsheets that are filled with numbers benefit from switching to a monospaced font like Consolas. I think that Microsoft should consider a familt of fonts and use the right one for the right product. But I doubt that this will happen.

'Biggest data grab' in NHS history stuffs GP records in a central store for 'research' – and the time to opt out is now; politics, healthcare, privacy; I haven't actually opted out, and I may not do so. But this is a big change, and at a time when we have a government determined to privatise the NHS by stealth. How much of our health data might go to private companies, and from there to who knows where? And health data can be very identifiable. This worries me. At the moment I'm taking an attitude of "opt in and help the NHS", but I will be watching for any signs that I should opt out.

The Brexit roots of the scandals; politics, brexit, ethics; There is a strong strain of "the rules don't apply to us" in the current British Government, and it will likely not end well. Rules are often there for a reason, even if nobody can remember that reason anymore...

The realities of sovereignty; politics, brexit; We were always Sovereign whilst we were in the EU. That is a fact. The idea that we were not is something that should have been directly called out as a lie, and those politicians that repeated this lie should have suffered consequences. That having ben said, many of the issues that make Brexit a failure are based on this misunderstanding of what Sovereignty is, coupled with the inability to understand that other countries are also Sovereign.

That's it for May, see you in June!

Link dumps 2021-04-18

Things are getting busier for me due to work, and lockdown is ending. Only one thing about whisky in this month's links - it's all gone a bit quiet, and with the various festivals cancelled I suspect it will remain so for a while. It's mostly transport, politics and computing. Which is fine for some, and terrible for most...

Scotland’s railways to be nationalised next year; transport, politics; I still struggle to understand privatised railways. The best service improvement I ever had was after Connex Southeastern died - the not-for-profit temporary company did a much better job. The same thign happened on the East Coast Mainline. It's long past time to admit that the privatised railway experiment has failed, and move ownership into public trusts. Scotland is choosing nationalisation by the same means - moving services into a not-for-profit "operator of last resort". It'll be interesting to see how that goes.

COVID-19 killed the last man of an indigenous Brazilian tribe; news, history; I suspect that when histories of our period are written, this will surface as a more important item. It's more an indicator of the state of the world and COVID-19's impact than anything else - it could be argued that globalisation and international trade killed his tribe. COVID-19, spreading like wildfire because of the cheap transport that enabled globalisation and international trade, was merely the final blow.

Paddick on Clapham Common vigil report whitewash; politics, policing; Brian Paddick was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Met Police, and paints a pretty poor picture of how the vigil for Sarah Everard was handled. A failure to plan, and when they saw known agitators travelling to the vigil they just noted it in their log - no actions taken. Wow. This seems to have been one oversight after another - almost as if the leadership just didn't want to do their job.

How the Supreme Court saved the software industry from API copyrightstechnology, law; This is a huge win for the whole technology industry. Oracle was trying to claim a level of ownership that would make it VERY hard for companies to make software that's compatible and interoperable with other software. Here's Ars' excellent write up of that.

Font size is useless; let’s fix it; typography, technology; Some typefaces are just ludicrously large or small compared to others. I applaud the idea of fixing it, but suspect that this is doomed.

Writing tools I learned from The Economist; writing; This website would be better if I remembered any of this...

France bans air travel that could be done by train in under 2.5 hours; travel, environment; A great move. I've never understood flying for short hops, but then I also hate airports. I can fly from London to Manchester in 45 minutes, but it takes me an hour and a quarter to get to the airport, then I have to check in and wait, then at Manchester I'm actually half an hour's travel from Manchester. It's not much slower than train - if at all - and the train is a lot less hassle. We should consider something similar in the UK.

Clerkenwell toilets hoardings turned into “art”; fun, environment; Somebody hung art cards on hoarding and turned them into "art" to protest how long the hoardings have been up. Granted, there have been delays due to COVID-19, but I still find this funny.

Prince Philip, inadvertent father of the Computer Misuse Act, dies aged 99; politics, law; Trust El Reg to find a computing angle - but it turns out that he had his BT Prestel account hacked in the 1980's and pushed for laws covering the misuse of computers. Vengeance or prescience? Who can tell...

The history of UTF-8 as told by Rob Pike; computing, history; Pretty much what it says on the tin. UTF-8 is one of those things that we use every day and take for granted, so it's interesting to see how it came about.

Present tense; whisky; In which my friend Matt muses on what the whisky market has become, then reviews some new releases.

Prehistoric notation systems in Peru, with Chinese parallels; history; culture; In which a linguist muses on whether there is a link between the notation systems of Peru and ancient China. Personally I tend to think our ancestors were at least as smart as us, just lacking in some of the opportunities and technoligies - so I'm not surprised if things are invented many times independently in many different places. But it's fun to watch academics speculate wildly...

That's it for April. See you in May!

Link dumps 2020-03-21

We're still in lockdown, so there's not much happening. Still, it gives me time to read...


Vincent Alexander's thread on classical music in classic cartoons; Art, Music, Fun; A fun twitter thread on the classical music that you know, but you don't know you know - because it was in cartoons! Lots of small videos make for a fun thing to dip into and out of to put a smile on your face.

Revealed: More money went on failed Garden Bridge than TfL has spent maintaining Thames’ crossings in last decade; Politics, Scandal; The title kind of says it all. Boris Johnson wasted more money trying to get a legacy for his name than he spent on maintaining critical infrastructure for the city. Why anyone thinks he's competent is beyond me...

How Land Registry Data Reveals London’s Secret Tunnels; History, Society, Engineering; How can you find a secret tunnel? Well, you can start by finding out who says that they own the land. I wonder if we can use this to discover shell companies that the intelligence services use?

From buggies to buses, the first Black-owned US automaker did what few others dared; History, Society; A nice summary of a car manufacturer owned and run by an African-American family at a time when that seems unthinkable. They didn't survive, but just the idea that they tried at that time is inspiring.

Stad Ships Tunnel; Engineering, Transport; Ah, Norway. A huge engineering project so that ships can take a shortcut - it makes so much sense, yet has that tinge of visionary lunacy that we associate with the Victorian era in Britain. Never change, Norway. We love you for stuff like this.

If Rush Hour Dies, Does Mass Transit Die With It?; Society, Politics, Transport; An interesting idea. Personally I doubt rush hour will die, but it may get a bit less busy. We're looking at a change, and we have to make that age-old call - is transit a social good we're willing to fund, or a luxury that we're not willing to fund. I think most people who know me can guess which side I fall on.

The paradox of financial innovation; Economics; I find some of the ideas in this fascinating. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I do find myself realising that the markets are set up more for the benefit of those that are already wealthy than for the benefit of society. Securities linked to occupations seem particularly interesting as an idea... (Be warned: he uses Marx in the academic sense not the tabloid sense. Serious readers only, please!)

National Security Risks of Late-Stage Capitalism; Security, Computing, Economics; An interesting column from Bruce Schneier about how a lack of economic incentive is leaving our country - and companies - vulnerable to security risks.

SMBC Comics: Funny; Fun, Society; "Kids start off functional and we adjust them until they're broken! Kids ask why countries don't get along and we just shake our heads instead of saying the truth which is that we are crazy and one day you will be crazy too." - Truth.

Baroness Barker in the House of Lords on trans rights; Society, Human Rights; Baroness Barker makes a powerful speech. The highlight: "We are in familiar territory because powerful campaigns have common characteristics and patterns. A classic campaign identifies a minority group—preferably one about which the majority population knows little—ascribes to it characteristics and motivations which make it a threat and repeats those assertions, preferably with the backing of a neutral body or experts, over and over until they become received wisdom. It is what happened to migrant communities in the UK in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, it was lesbians and gay men. Today, it is the turn of trans people."


I spared you some Brexit links this month, because there was already quite a bit of politics mixed in here. But rest assured that there will probably be something next month, because it's not going away.

Link dumps 2020-02-21

This is the first link dump. It's currently an experiment - the format may change.

Basically when I find something I like reading, I'll bookmark it. Then I'll dump that link here with a little bit of commentary about why I dumped it here. Each link dump should be on the third Sunday of the month...

I started collecting the links at the start of February, and am still forgetting to bookmark all of them, so this one's a bit small. Let's see if there's a second one!


From Dayton, Ohio to Donald Trump - Poetic Fitness; Politics, Economics, Society; This is an interesting long read that posits that both capitalism and communism suffered from the same evil - efficiency. It's an interesting point of view, and I have to admit that it resonates strongly with me. In my professional life I'm often arguing for more resources so that we can mitigate hardware failure or demand spikes - it's baffling to me that we don't take a similar view at a broader societal level. This is nothing new either - the Beeching Cuts and Thatcher's aggressive running down of coal mining are other examples of efficiency being sought with no thought to the wider impact it will have. Sadly, I have no solutions. But I do think it's interesting that it's not a problem specific to a particular political camp...

Stumbling and Mumbling: Labour's patriotism problem; Politics, Identity; I hate nationalism. I don't care which country it's from, it's just not my thing. I just can't believe the immense coincidence that all nationalists just happen to have been born in the best nation in the world, despite all being from different nations. But increasingly our politics is turning nationalist - and this reminds us that nationalism shouldn't be about flags or trophies, but about what our nation does for its people. (It also reminds us that you shouldn't read the comments. You have been warned!)

Glenfarclas 105 Review - The Dramble; Whisky; Zander writes an interesting set of thoughts about water & whisky bottling. And a decent review of Glanfarclass 105, which provoked the whole thing. Worth a read. My tuppence? I like to be able to explore some whiskies. I also like to be able to just drink some others. There's room for both unwatered and watered whisky in my selection...

The Real Novelty of the ARPANET; Computing, History; A reminder that computers used to be even more isolated than they sometimes seem today. The real value in the early internet was less that computers were connected, and more that they were learning to speak a common language for that connection. Cooperation is always a better strategy long term than exclusion.

Brexit & Beyond: The Brexit we've got; Politics; A reminder of how we got to this variant of Brexit, and that those pro-Brexit folks who complain about it have to realise - this is the only Brexit we have. Until they accept that, they will never be happy with it.

We now have new evidence that Richard III murdered the princes in the tower; History; It's not a smoking gun - or should that be blood-stained dagger? - but it's interesting to see that there's still new circumstantial evidence turning up. We'll never be able to prove something like this absolutely, but we can get a fuller picture.

Post Office Railway – Subterranea Britannica; History, Infrastructure, Railways, Logistics; A decent history of "mail rail", the underground railway in London that delivered mail without clogging up the streets. This wasn't new to me, but I found myself doing some research on it after finding an artefact of the railway on an old map, and thought it worth sharing.

King’s Cross: Clearing the Throat and removing the hump! | Rail Engineer; Railways, Infrastructure, Engineering; When engineering projects hit the public consciousness it's usually due to delays, overspends and failures. Here's a complex, difficult project that's succeeding - they not only redid a track layout, but removed a sewer and did it all despite COVID-19 and a storm. A little ray of brightness to end on!


That's it for now, see you in March.

SMWS Outturn 296 - Let’s Get Fizzical

SMWS 6.42 - A sunshine state of mindThe October List has a remarkably high standard of drams. There’s no special event, no marketing blitz - just decent whisky. And a good spread of it - three peated, two oily and coastal, a grain, an Oloroso cask, a Sauternes and quite a few recharred barriques. There should be something for everyone!

Myself and Matt managed to do the tastings together, which is always a pleasure and helped give me a feel for the whole list. Plenty of approving noises from him as he contemplated his nine drams, so I’m looking forward to reading his notes.

The star of the list for me was the Balblair. It’s technical perfection is matched by its breadth and balance of flavours - fruits, wood, flowers, spices - and its delivery is superb. It’s hard to argue that there’s anything wrong with this dram, hence a high technical score and I’d like more than one bottle.

I’d also like more than one bottle of the Croftengea, which is a smokey, sooty, fruity glass of joy. Fans of this distillery know what to expect, and it doesn’t waste time delivering. It’s almost a mirror image of the Balblair in terms of age, price and flavours - but thankfully not in balance!

At the “I’d like a bottle” level we have the rather interesting Strathclyde, which delivers balsa wood, spices and a hint of rum. Almost too hot for me, water tamed it somewhat and showed that it had more depths to plumb.

There’s also the excellent Inchmurrin, which has fruits, sponge cake, sugar and gentle spices - the second maturation really worked well.

And now we come to the final recommendation, which requires more than just one paragraph.

If you can, you simply must try the oddball venue only Glen Deveron. And what a pity this is venue only, because it’s not a whisky at all. It’s a bloody magic trick. It has herbs, fruits and spices and is almost too hot for me. And then you add water and it performs what can only be described as “sleight of cask”, changing completely into a much more fruity, floral dram where the spice is restrained and complimentary. It cannot be understated that this isn’t a development, it’s a revolution that overthrows the previous ruling flavours. Fearing for my sanity, I handed it over to Matt who concurred - this is two drams in one glass. It’s therefore the first dram for a while to get two distinct Personal Preferences - just the one dram when neat, but I’d like a bottle when it’s watered.

The Glen Deveron makes me wonder how it will be in a month’s time. I suspect most readers of these preview notes don’t realise that myself and Matt are almost always tasting from a very recently opened bottle, often the first or second pour from it. And we only get about ten minutes with each dram. The mechanics of tasting half a list in an evening mean that we can merely take quick sips, and rarely returning to it later to see how it develops. The best indication we have as to how a dram will behave over the long term is adding water, but that’s just an indication. What treasures and joys lie between the two extremes that this dram displayed? I’m going to enjoy finding them at Greville Street, but it’s a shame that the low outturn on this dram makes it venue only as I think more members would like to experience this chimera. I wish it had been in some kind of sample pack...

That’s it for the recommendations and ruminations. The individual reviews are linked below as always, and Matt’s reviews will be available over at The Dramble as usual.

We need to stop gendering whisky

This week saw Jim Murray’s latest Whisky Bible published, and Becky Paskin call him out for his sexism. The industry reacted remarkably well, and hopefully we’ll see some much needed change.

Real change requires more than just condemning whilst it’s convenient, it requires our long term involvement. So I’d like to propose a simple change we can all make. Hopefully it will not only make you less likely to be seen as a beastly relic, it’ll also help you see more in whiskies themselves.

First, some quick background. Those close to me - and some who have merely been nearby when I’m drunk - know I’m writing a book about grain whisky. (I wouldn’t hold your breath. It’s been seven years so far, at this rate it’ll probably be published just after “The Lonely Planet Guide to the Heat Death of the Universe”...)

One of the sections of the book is on perceptions of grain whisky. It aims to tackle certain myths and misconceptions that affect grain whisky. But some of those affect more than just grain whisky. Please remember that the following is a draft, and subject to change... 

SMWS Outturn 295 - The Gathering

SMWS 16.47 - The Steeplejack's delightThe September outturn coincides with The Gathering, an annual event within the Society that will now be a rather more distanced affair, due to you-know-what.

In terms of whisky it has resulted in a rather nutty Longmorn, which was re-racked into a PX cask and has become something of a nut bomb. If you like sherried whiskies - and nuts - then this is going to be your pick of the list. It is not, however, mine. It’s not bad, but I just don’t like nuts that much. I’m more of a sherbet man...

So what was my favourite? Well, the pick of the list is the Glenturret. It’s dirty, peated whisky with an adorable sweetness. And water just made it better. Simply superb, and I’d like multiple bottles.

Worthy not only of a bottle but a whole paragraph to itself is the quite remarkable Auchentoshan, which spent 28 years in a refill cask and managed to come out at a belting 61.1% abv. Normally that indicates something might have gone wrong, but not here - it’s got fruits, ginger and nutmeg but very little heat. It’s a fine dram that proves that the figures don’t tell the whole story.

That’s it for my picks of this list. I’m seeing some buzz around the Caol Ila online, but I won’t be standing in anyone’s way for it. It’s competent, and deserving of a high score, but not my style. Stand between me and the Caol Ila, and I’ll just drink something else. Stand between me and the Glenturret, however, and we have a problem...

As usual Matt will have the other half of the list over at The Dramble - we managed to get our schedules to coincide, and it’s always a pleasure dramming with him. We managed to swap a few drams to nose, and I think this list has some winners on his side too!

SMWS Outturn 294 - Flavour Invasion

SMWS 63.61 - Getting baked in the afternoonIt seems like an age since the last preview tasting. Mostly because it is.

Fortunately, August has a pretty good list. There was nothing that I wanted more than one bottle of, but a lot of bottle candidates. The scores never dipped below 3.5, either.

It’s no surprise that I really liked the Cambus, but it has a little spice that makes me less enthusiastic about it when compared to last month’s effort. Also worth investigation is the An Cnoc, which has a a delightful nose.

The Glentauchers is yet another young stunner, and the Linkwood is a fruit bomb.

What strikes me is that this list is above average and that it’s also quite nicely in keeping with the season - lots of lighter, sweeter drams. There’s nothing wrong with a taste of another season, but it can be jarring to be sipping sunshine on a winter’s solstice. It’s nice to have some seasonal suitability...

As it was Matt’s birthday he got two peaty drams, and a few other things that are to his liking. The peated dram I previewed - the Croftengea - has been sent back for relabelling so will be late to arrive. A real shame, as it's my pick of the list - a superb young peaty beastie...

You can read Matt’s reviews for the rest of the list over at The Dramble.

BPG vs JPEG vs WebP vs JPEG-XR

I was watching this excellent video about image compression, and was reminded of this article. On re-reading it I noticed two things - firstly that I was mostly right, and secondly that this was first written in December 2014 - almost six years ago!

I should say that my biggest mistake was in predicting that Firefox would be the kingmaker. But I was right in predicting that Apple would be the last to support WebP - everyone else has for years, but they've just announced that they will add support soon. And I was partly right in saying that Apple would choose BPG because they had video patents in the pool - they did, but by then BPG had morphed into HEIF. Which is a very similar technology to BPG in that it's part of a video codec, and therefore very efficient and easily hardware accelerated. And Apple is part of the patent pool behind HEIF.

I was also right in predicting patent licensing issues for BPG or HEIF - for example students not being able to upload their coursework because the website didn't support HEIF. Some cast that as a tooling issue, but the slow uptake of HEIF has been because of licensing - tooling has been available for ages. The problem is whether or not you can legally use it. Support is slowly improving, but it's very much a second-class citizen unless you're in an all-Apple ecosystem.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. When HEIF was announced I was tempted to rewrite or update this article, but I never got around to it. Now, in 2020, I think it's better simply to resurface the article with this brief bit of modern context. And having established that, let's get to it...


The Internet loves a good format battle.

For years, we’ve had three image formats on the internet - JPEG, GIF and PNG.

We might be about to get another one.

 

HEY - Reinventing email?

Introduction

HEY LogoHEY is a new email service with bold claims. I spent 15 years of my career running email systems (1997 - 2014), and have used a heck of a lot of email clients. I long ago came to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as a perfect email client, but I’m always interested to see a new way of handling email.

The last service that impressed me was Google’s Inbox - rest in peace - which had some great features. HEY clearly leans towards some of Inbox’s features and ethos - to give you control over your email by stripping the experience back somewhat.

A quick spot of background - I run my own mail service at the moment. It’s fine and does exactly what I want. I get around 50 to 60 emails a day (excluding spam), which is nothing compared to my work inbox but for a personal account is quite a bit and can be overwhelming. The most important thing about running my own email system is that it gives me control and ownership of my data. When HEY hit the headlines (for a spat with Apple), the first thing I checked was “can I export my email”. The answer was yes, so I figured I’d give it a try and applied for a trial account.

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