Link dump 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?


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.

On the SMWS, festival bottlings and handling demand

The Scottish whisky festival season came and went, and we were all in lockdown. No gatherings, just videoconferencing. No queues at distilleries, just order baskets on webpages.

Perhaps that increased demand? People knowing that they wouldn’t get to a tasting or Member’s Room to taste the festival whiskies?

Perhaps it’s just the ever-increasing demand hitting a point where the SMWS infrastructure can’t cope anymore.

It doesn’t matter which.

What matters is that it made people angry.

SMWS Outturn 289 - Hop Into Spring

SMWS 128.9 - ElectrochemysteryThe March list has lots of decent drams without breaking the bank. Nothing above a G price, and lots of decent scores of 4/5 for very reasonably priced drams. There's also plenty of variety, with almost all flavour profiles represented.

The star of the list was the Penderyn, which is a lighter and sweeter dram than our usual casks from that distillery.

Also worth looking at are the Strathisla, which is easily mistaken for sherry if you haven't read the details. The Caol Ila is the best peated dram on the list.

This has been a short turnaround due to late deliveries, so I apologise for the lack of analysis - it was all I could do to get the tasting notes written and formatted... Sadly Matt couldn't make it this month, so no notes from him to link to.

SMWS Outturn 288 - Get in the Mood

SMWS G10.23 - Honey on a cricket batIt’s February, so the Gods of Commerce demand their sacrifice to Hallmark Day Valentine’s Day. And this list is practically puppy love - a lot of youth, a lot of energy. More of a night clubbing than a candle-lit dinner...

The star of the list is the almost-too-spicy Strathclyde. That my romance with grain continues should surprise nobody, but this is yet another one of those divine noses that combines wood influence and fruit. More of this please! Also demanding multiple bottles is the Glen Deveron, which is a young fruit bomb with a little wood to back itself up - quite delightful.

Whilst the scores clustered around 4, there were only a couple of bottle candidates. One was the hilariously named Ardmore. Nowhere near as sherried as I expected, and nicely balanced, it’s a fun dram with a fun name. The other candidate was the Glen Scotia, which is full of citrus and hints of other flavours - a real joy to pick apart.

Honourable mentions would include the ludicrously named sherry monster that is the Glentauchers, and the destined-to-be-overlooked soft smoke of the Allt-a-Bhainne.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and get some candles and set the mood. I plan on spending the evening drinking that grain... probably with another grain. I’m really not about sharing... 😉

(Not all the bottles arrived in time for previews, so this is about three bottles shorter than it should be.)

As ever Matt has the rest of the bottles over at The Dramble...


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