David Pogue on Apple’s new Photos for Mac app →

February 05, 2015 |

David Pogue:

Photos is meant to look, feel, and work exactly like Photos on the iPhone and iPad. It is yet another attempt by Apple to both unify the learning curve across devices and to put velvet handcuffs on you. The more benefits you get from sticking to an all-Apple ecosystem, the more likely you are to stay in it.

If it works without hiccups — and that’s a big if — it looks like most iOS users are going to feel right at home in the new Photos for Mac app. I’m definitely curious to try it, although most of my photos live in Lightroom these days.

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It’s funny how some of the best things in life happen entirely by chance.

On paper, I shouldn’t be writing this article right now. This single malt didn’t make my initial list of candidates, mostly because I didn’t even know of its existence when I placed my original 11-dram order with Master of Malt. I only learned of it later that day, when I asked Matt Gemmell on Twitter to recommend a nice young single malt for, ahem, research purposes.

The following morning though, I received a very polite phone call from Master of Malt. As luck would have it, there had been a problem with my order — the PayPal payment didn’t go through — and so I was able to add Matt’s recommendations to the list at the very last minute. Those recommendations were the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 Year Old, which I reviewed here a few weeks ago, and of course The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years, which we have here today.

The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years comes in a fancy box. Photo Credit: Michael Bentley.

If you recall, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the Quinta Ruban. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clearly a very fine whisky, just not to my particular taste. This Balvenie, on the other hand, has won me over completely, and I’d go as far as to say it has become my new social drink of choice.

The Balvenie distillery

In another happy coincidence, today I received my much-awaited copy of Mark Bylok’s excellent book, The Whisky Cabinet. I had been hoping to lay my dirty hands on this book since before I even started this article series, back in October. It’s been a while but I’m happy to say, it’s been well worth the wait.

The Whisky Cabinet, by Mark Bylok. A perfect coffee-table book if I ever saw one.

I haven’t had enough time to dive deep into it, but I’m really loving what I’ve seen so far. Great photography, an amazing selection of whiskies from all over the world and the clear, precise writing Mark is so good at. You can expect some more in-depth comments about the book in a few weeks but for now, suffice it to say it’s very, very good.

Thanks to Mark’s book, for example, I found out that the Balvenie distillery, located in the Speyside region, was built by the Grant family — of Glenfiddich fame — and that it started operating just six years after Glenfiddich began producing their world-famous whisky. Their idea was for Balvenie to help meet some of Glenfiddich’s demand, but it quickly found a character of its own.

Unlike Glenfiddich, Balvenie uses primarily American oak casks to age their whiskies, while using European oak casks only for the finishing years. This is true for the majority of their denominations. Balvenie was actually the distillery that pioneered wood finishing, a practice now considered standard and widely used by the rest of the whisky industry.

The Balvenie distillery in Speyside. Photo Credit: Martyn Jenkins.

The DoubleWood Aged 12 Years

As its name implies and like many of Balvenie’s denominations, the DoubleWood 12 is a wood-finished whisky. In this case, the whisky is first aged in ex-bourbon American oak casks for ten years and then finished in ex-sherry European oak casks for another two years, giving it that extra bit of character DoubleWood is known for.

The DoubleWood 12 bottle sports a classically elegant design. Photo Credit: Marc Gélinas.

The DoubleWood 12 has a slightly darker, warmer color than most whiskies its age due to its sherry finish. I’d rate it between a 1.3 (russetmuscat) and a 1.5 (auburn, polished mahogany) on the Whisky Magazine color chart:

Click or tap on the chart to view it full-size.

The DoubleWood Aged 12 Years is the spiritual successor to the Balvenie Classic of the 1980’s. For a little more on the story behind this, let’s take a look at what Balvenie’s Malt Master David Stewart has to say:

The nose

This is clearly the most easygoing whisky I have nosed so far. It’s very pleasant on the nose, with plenty of vanilla and caramel notes. It’s not a terribly complex whisky like the Quinta Ruban, and I mean that in a good way. Instead, this one gives you everything right away, but in a subtle, almost delicate way. A very balanced aroma that you’ll never find dull, that’s for sure.

The palate

This is where the DoubleWood shines. It’s just the right amount of spice and the right amount of toffee, both playing together in perfect harmony. I also detect some very faint hints of fruit, perhaps red berries or something along those lines. It has a very elegant sweetness that is not too bold, and adds to the overall experience. All in all, there’s really nothing bad to say about it, except it’s extremely difficult to stop after only one drink. Be advised.

The DoubleWood is bottled at 40% alcohol, so burn is naturally kept to a minimum due to its moderate strength. Add water at your discretion, but be careful not to drown it. I’ve found that just a splash of water works best, but I won’t go out of my way to get it. And of course, don’t ever use tap water. If you can get some mineral water great but if not, just drink it neat. Have smaller sips and your saliva will naturally dilute the drink. That’s another excellent tip I learned from The Whisky Cabinet and in this case, it works like a charm.

The finish

I’d rate it as medium. It lingers on just long enough to make you want more. It’s a diabolically well-engineered drink, at that. The aftertaste is mellow and pleasant, with plenty of caramel notes and perhaps some vanilla undertones lingering as an afterthought.

Perfect for

Like I said in the introduction, the Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years has become my new favorite single malt, and also my new social drink of choice. It’s one of the few quality single malts that are easy to find in most bars around these peat-forsaken parts, and it deftly hits that elusive sweetspot of being a perfectly enjoyable drink without being overly expensive. I’ve spent the better part of last month and even much of the holidays getting well acquainted with this one, and I just can’t get enough of it.

Therefore, I’d recommend it for any social situation in which you feel like kicking back and relaxing in good company. Leave the deep conversations and worrying thoughts for another day, this is no moment for trouble. And if you’re anything like me, you may end up asking the barkeep to just leave the bottle.

Final words

There’s not much more to say about this single malt, except I really, really like it. As usual, Matt Gemmell was right, and all I have for him is gratitude for encouraging me to discover such an excellent whisky. In the immortal words of Lt. Archie Hicox:

“I must say, damn good stuff, Sir.”

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Bob Dylan’s Sinatra album →

February 04, 2015 |

Ben Greenman, The New Yorker:

Bob Dylan’s new album, “Shadows in the Night,” which comes out today, has been called his Frank Sinatra record. The album does includes (sic) ten songs all originally recorded by Sinatra, but it’s maybe more accurate to think of it as a conscious return to the compositions of the pre-rock era (or, if you prefer, the pre-Dylan era), much in the way that Dylan’s two early-nineties records, “Good As I Been to You” and “World Gone Wrong,” were callbacks to country blues. The ten songs on the record are drawn from the mid-century songbook, giving Dylan an opportunity to demonstrate his kinship with that era, and to illustrate that these songs have always been part of his inheritance. While most of them, in their day, were recorded with orchestration, for this record he uses only his regular five-piece band and an occasional horn section. The over-all effect is both ephemeral and powerful.

I still can’t quite believe this album exists. Dylan and Sinatra are two of my all-time favorite artists, but they’re actually pretty different in terms of vocal quality and usual repertoire. I’m not sure how well this album will work — I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet — but I hope it’s more than just Dylan eviscerating some classic Sinatra songs.

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Jason Snell on Apple’s ‘product distortion field’ →

February 04, 2015 |

Jason Snell wrote a brilliant analysis on the effect that the overwhelming popularity of the iPhone could have in Apple’s corporate strategy going forward:

For the last two years, the iPhone has provided more than half of Apple’s corporate revenue, and in the most recent quarter it was more than two-thirds of the revenue. Apple is rapidly becoming iPhone Inc., maker of smartphones and… various other devices.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that the sheer gravity of the iPhone might perturb Apple’s business priorities, at least somewhat. The Mac and iPad are strong businesses on their own, but companies with one huge profit center and other smaller profit centers tend to prioritize the biggest item. I’m not saying that Apple is ignoring the Mac and iPad—I really do believe that Apple is very good at seeing the forest for the trees. But I do think that the iPhone’s phenomenal success has to have some effect in company strategy.

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How not to respond to a job rejection email →

February 04, 2015 |

Jolene Creighton, editor of the wonderful science-themed website From Quarks to Quasars, sent a polite rejection letter to a freelance job applicant and things quickly took a turn for the worse:

I am posting this because I want people to see how women are treated online. The number of times that I have received gender based insults from people on the internet is horrifying. Receiving even one is horrifying. But it’s not just the gender based insults, because the sexism would be there even without the insults. It’s in the tone that he adopts — the arrogant, authoritative, “king of all he surveys” attitude. And I don’t think that we can separate this individual’s response from his gender. While, in my own experiences with my peers, I feel accepted and respected, I still feel that this is an issue that needs some addressing and should be acknowledged.

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Erin Brooks reviews the Nikon FE film camera →

February 03, 2015 |

Erin Brooks published a fantastic article about her 1970’s Nikon FE film camera:

When a film image comes out right, it’s like I can feel it. It escorts me back to the moment I snapped that thoughtful shot. I can almost feel my baby’s chubby, softer-than-velvet cheeks, see the twinkle in her wide eyes as she experiences life with a newness only a baby can, hear her sweet baby coos as she learns to use her voice, and it takes my breath away. And I get to keep that moment, and live it again and again, forever.

Because so much of photography is in the eye of the photographer, and because film takes so much thought, I feel like not only do film photos have soul, they capture a bit of the photographer’s soul, too. They allow an outsider to see with the same eyes as the photographer, to live in her shoes, feel what she feels, for just a snippet of time. It’s romantic. It’s pure. Film photos have a life, realness, grittiness, and emotion to them.

I couldn’t agree more. Erin’s article mirrors my own feelings on the matter of film photography pretty closely. Also, don’t miss the incredibly emotional images of her beautiful children.

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Riding Light →

February 03, 2015 |

“Riding Light” is a mesmerizing video by Alphonse Swinehart depicting the journey of light across the Solar System in real time, from the Sun’s core until it passes Jupiter’s orbit. Such an incredible journey takes an impressive 45 minutes and it doesn’t even come close to reaching Saturn. It kind of puts the speed of light in perspective when pitted against the vast scale of the Universe. Via Kottke:

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How Jason Snell edits his podcasts →

February 03, 2015 |

Jason’s next article in his series on podcasting is a very detailed review of his editing process, and it’s awesome. Before you rush to open your editing app of choice though, be sure to keep this in mind:

Not to get all philosophical on you, but editing audio is a lot of work, and depending on what kind of a podcast you’re producing, most of it is probably not necessary. Just because you can edit a podcast within an inch of its life—clearing out pauses, removing every um and uh and awkward pause and spoken digression—doesn’t mean you must.

People speak with pauses and ums, with tangents and elliptical phraseology. Our brains are really, really good at taking all of that input and smoothing it out into something understandable. You could even argue that with too much editing, speaking starts to sound artificial and alien, because it no longer sounds like what we hear coming out of people’s mouths every day.

Agreed. The main differentiating feature of Overcast, my podcast player of choice for iOS, is Smart Speed. This feature is supposed to automatically trim these small pauses and do some editing on-the-fly to reduce the time it takes to play a given episode.

Smart Speed in Overcast works great and yet, I hardly ever use it. I actually enjoy listening to those little pauses, ums and uhs, because they reveal a lot about the person who’s talking. It’s like getting a little bit closer to that person’s train of thought, and I find it very interesting.

So yeah, I’m very much in favor of minimal editing in podcasting. Podcasts are not scripted shows, and there’s no compelling reason to make them sound like they are.

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The GORUCK GR1 review on Tools & Toys →

February 03, 2015 |

Speaking of gorgeous reviews, Ben Brooks did a great take on the GORUCK GR1 for Tools & Toys:

What makes the GR1 great is its versatility. I have no qualms about doing anything with this bag. I’ve taken it hiking and traveling, to on job interviews, and to the park where my kid saw fit to drag it through the mud. It still looks the same as it did when it was new. It still functions the same.

Every little thing works. I can just as easily use this bag for clothes as I can bricks, as I can a laptop, or as I can with other delicate and expensive gadgets. The GR1 became my only bag, not because it was the perfect bag, but because it can be any kind of bag I need it to be.

This is exactly right. I don’t personally own the GR1, because I needed a smaller bag and I went for the GR Echo instead. Since I already own a GR2 and a GR Echo, buying the GR1 always seemed a bit excessive. However, it’s true that the GR2 is too big for everyday use and the Echo is too small for travel, and I do miss having a bag that is just the right size for almost everything. After reading Ben’s excellent review, I may have to reconsider my position.

As a side note, I’m really loving the Tools & Toys reviews lately. The thought and care that go into every article really shine through, and the standards are incredibly high. This is why I’m so proud to be a contributor to the site.

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Analog Life reviews the Jawbone UP24 activity tracker →

February 03, 2015 |

Analog Life is a brand-new website about the “analog divide,” the spaces where our virtual and real worlds diverge and meet. It’s barely a week old, but Chris is already doing an amazing job with it, and his review of the Jawbone UP24 is a perfect example.

This is a great review on so many levels. The photography is downright gorgeous, and it provides plenty of useful information about the product without sugarcoating it. Here’s an excerpt I found particularly interesting:

Unfortunately, the food entry process is arduous. While the catalog of ingredients is extensive and includes a surprising number of brand-specific nutritional data, I have found many cases where the default serving information is incorrect. You must also be online to enter food, and then you must manually enter each ingredient unless you are entering a very well known dish, or a popular meal from a well-established franchise restaurant. Further, once you’ve added all of the ingredients, then you must separately go in and tweak the quantities involved. On top of all of this, there is no way to group commonly eaten ingredients into a “meal.” For example, I routinely have whey protein powder, milk, peanut butter and a banana blended into a morning smoothie. I would love to be able to group these ingredients into an object titled, “Breakfast Smoothie,” and have the application remember its ingredients. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This part of the application is a bit messy, time-consuming, and frankly a deterrent to using this otherwise remarkably useful feature.

I’ve never been terribly interested in activity-tracking devices for this particular reason. Many of the features they promise assume users are accurately logging their meals in the system, but I have never found this to be the case.

Back when I worked at the university, one of the first research projects I was involved in was PREDIRCAM, a health-tracking platform designed to provide tele-medical assistance for people at risk of developing type-2 diabetes. I was in charge of developing the fitness-tracking module, and back then we used Polar RS400 heart-rate monitors to log the amount of exercise users did every day.1

Development of the fitness-tracking module was relatively straightforward, but the diet-logging module turned out to be a nightmare for all the reasons Chris mentions in the above excerpt. Our test users, all of them technically-savvy young people, needed between 4 and 7 minutes to log each meal in the system. When you need to go through such an incredibly cumbersome process just to log a meal, user engagement drops dramatically and in fact, most users are very likely to simply stop logging meals altogether after a few days. At this point the activity tracking itself becomes less useful and starts losing appeal, in some cases even compromising the entire experience.

For what it’s worth, this is clearly what we saw in the pilot study: it all starts and ends with the diet. The reality is that this is a very, very difficult problem to solve and in fact, all major manufacturers of activity-tracking devices are still struggling big-time in this area. While tracking technology has improved dramatically, lifestyle and dietary logging are still very much in their infancy. Until somebody manages to come up with a simple, intuitive and effective way for users to log their meals, these platforms will be unable to realize their full potential.

  1. Keep in mind that development started back in early 2008, when there was still no Fitbit, no Nike Fuelband and no Jawbone Up, and the fitness-tracking capabilities of most phones were laughably limited.

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