Saturday, 30 November 2013

Whisky Tasting

I subscribe to the magazine New Scientist, and in July this year they ran a competition for subscribers where you had a chance to win 12 sciency books. Since entering involved no more effort than providing them with my email address, I did so, and promptly forgot about it. I never win anything, and after 30 years of buying Lotto tickets with no success, I am completely immune to disappointment.

Months later I got an e-mail from them telling me I'd won, and could I please provide the delivery address. I couldn't even remember what the books were. When they arrived about a week later I discovered a very mixed bunch: one on the search for the Higgs boson was probably the most demanding, but it was also the sort of book that gets overrun with new discoveries; on the other hand, some were keepers, such as this one:

This book is a useful reference on all things alcumohol, but I was particularly struck by Page 40:

As some of you may know, I splosh some water in my whisky, but I had no idea you were supposed to do that; I do it because I enjoy the whisky more with a little water softening.

So, purely in the spirit of scientific endeavour, I grabbed my bottle of Johnny Walker Red and some measuring things and set to work. The standard Andrew serve of ice, two fingers and a splosh of water in a tumbler didn't sound much like the description above, so I placed ice in a tumbler, added my whisky and then immediately tipped the whisky into a measuring vessel. Result: 60ml (more or less).

So I pour myself a double shot with each glassful, which means I'm a soak but I already knew that. Next I got myself a small glass and, using an eyedropper, I put the recommended 6 drops of water in the glass. I could barely see it. So I doubled the number of drops, to match my standard double-shot issue of whisky, and I discovered the water made a very thin film in the bottom of the glass. This is not surprising, because 12 drops is only about 0.6ml.

So I think the correct technique is to wet the interior of a glass, shake out all the water that is not filming the glass surface, add 30ml (1 shot) of whisky, agitate to let the water get at the fatty acid molecules, then enjoy.

At which point I discovered that if you want fatty acid molecules you need a whisky that has them; Johnnie Walker Red Label doesn't very much because it is chill filtered to remove them. And why do they do that? Because Johnnie Walker Red Label, a blend of 35 different whiskies from both the east and west coasts of Scotland, is designed as a mixer base, and has been for decades, long before the company now known as Diageo bought the brand.

I also discovered via research on the Interwebs that I was using the wrong glass if I was going to start whisky tasting. So I went and bought some more appropriately shaped and sized glasses (not actual whisky tasting glasses as used by distillers, because they were stupid expensive) and I am now prepared to repeat the 'add a weetle bit of water' exercise with a non-chill filtered single malt. However, since it is presently 10:00am I will defer the exercise to a more appropriate time. As far as I am concerned, when whisky tasting you sip, swill and spit back into the glass, not into a spittoon, and when you've finished writing up your notes you consume the whisky. I may be a soak, but even I don't drink whisky at 10:00am.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Devils Born To Be Wild

On ABC News Online this morning (Wednesday 27 November 2013):

"Devils Born To Be Wild: Captive-bred Tasmanian devils are thriving on their new island home, breeding and interacting with tourists."

Really? Breeding with the tourists? Who'd a thunk it? Gives a whole new meaning to animal husbandry, I can tell you that.

I used to make a joke about a colleague (and friend) of mine, who had a desk with something special. He had the usual array of little containers we all have, to hold pens, and paper clips, and so on, but he also had an extra one - a punctuation container, filled to the brim with commas, semi-colons, full stops and an em-dash or two. He would write a letter (by hand) with perfectly conventional addressing, lead-in and salutation, but the body text was stream of consciousness with irregular capitalisation. He would then revert to convention for the sign off. To complete the task he would dip into his punctuation container and apply an even (and random) sprinkling of punctuation.

Of course he didn't really do this, but looking at the result you would be forgiven for thinking that my little joke was no joke at all.

I am reminded of the book 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Truss, a how-to manual for punctuation. Truss hosted a BBC Radio 4 program on punctuation before publishing that book, so she's well positioned to write about the topic. Using punctuation correctly shouldn't be hard, but so many people make it seem so that I am forced to conclude that, in fact, it is hard.

Nevertheless, you don't expect sloppiness from the ABC: " ... new island home, breeding, and interacting with tourists ..." is hardly physics; it just takes a little care.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Fumes, Oh Help, The Fumes

It has been a weetle while since I have been out on the bike, on account of the infestation of the driveway by white crew-cab 4x4 with enormous trailers containing tool sets worth more than the truck. But today was a fine day with a clear driveway - no more time for prevaricating, time to ride.

Since it was approaching lunch time I didn't want to ride a big distance, so I settled on what I call the M&M route - Maroochydore, Maplethorpe, Montville and Maleny, then back to Maroochydore. There's the small matter of Nambour, which doesn't begin with M, but it doesn't take much rearranging to make it fit - Manbour. There we go. This is actually the first time I had ever ridden this route, and I never will again.

The loop starts on Maroochydore Road, a 2-laner where everybody sticks to the speed limit, especially if they are in the right hand lane. Clearly this road has been heavily policed at some time in the past, although the polices were absent today, but even at the speed limit it was a refreshing trundle. At this point, if I was writing a totally crappo novel (which I actually am, but this isn't it) I would say something portentous and overused like "Little did I know."

As I entered the outskirts of Manbour I realised it was excursion day for pootle monsters. I was at the back of a chain of 6 vehicles, with the lead vehicle determined to stick to 38km/h in a 50km/h zone while they worriedly searched for the exit to their next destination, which, sadly, turned out to be my next destination too. And once we got onto the correct road, signposted 80km/h, they launched to the dizzying speed of 62km/h and settled there. Since the road was double unbroken whites and lots of roadworks it hardly mattered, especially when you're No 6 in the chain, but as we weaved, wriggled and twisted our way up a mountain it did seem a bit of a pity.

Maplethorpe didn't seem very interesting, and at the speed we were travelling I was able to examine it at my leisure. However, a few vehicles departed the chain and as we proceeded with marginally more vigour it was obvious we were approaching a ridgeline (and Montville). I was still third in the chain at this point, but one of the others peeled off as we entered the main drag of Montville.

If I make something up you'll catch the spirit of the place: Ye Olde Montville Plains View Tavern. Just one of those? Heck no, try 10 or 12, on both sides of the road. Clearly at some point peeps trying to escape the heat of the coastal plain had come up here and colonised. And of course when you do that you go all twee and Anglicised, of course you do. And as I was passing through all of this touristy horror, still not first in the chain, a gang of women crossed the road to go to one of these appalling destinations.

This gang were mutton dressed as lamb big time, past the big 4-0 with room to spare. And each and every one of them had grabbed their 'get it from K-Mart' $16.99 scent and upended it over themselves. Each one with a different flavour, of course. You smell things more on a bike, but I couldn't help thinking that in a few minutes a bunch of innocent hapless victims in the middle of selecting their meals are going to be overpowered by cheap (and disgusting) scent. If they still want to eat after that invasion they have cast-iron constitutions.

By the time I had passed through Montville I was feeling quite sick with the scent, and so I bailed at the Woombye exit. Had this been racetrack smooth and wide enough for 2 vehicles it would have been a delight as it wound its way down the mountain, but unfortunately it was narrow, very rough, and infested with folks in 4-by racing up the mountain in total disregard for anything that might be coming down.

And when I got to Palmwoods (Malpwoods) I just set course for home, still awash with the scent, and very disappointed.

When I become Dictator of the Planet (next Tuesday for those of you who haven't been paying attention) I will ban the sale of any perfume costing less than $100 per 10ml. Then a gentle dab of Chanel No 5 on each wrist and the sides of the neck will be fine (provided you give it the correct 60 minutes to develop) and no femmes will be tempted to overdo it because of the cost.

I mean, if you need to upend a litre of cheapo scent over yourself before going to the office lunch, have you considered the possibility you might have gangrene? Your nether regions just rotting away? The unpleasant smell of the cheap-as-chips hairspray you use will be masked by the K-Mart perfume? I don't think so.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Bats

On a day last week the bats arrived, around 9pm. Tree loads of lyssa virus hanging out (literally) in my front garden. Bats hang out in very large conversational groups, communicating by squawking:

" Hey, I found a good roost."
" Me too. I have a good roost too."
" My roost is down here."
" My roost is up here. It's a good roost."
" Let me see."
[Sounds of flapping]
" Oh yes, this is a very fine roost."
" I told you, this is a good roost."
" I had fruit."
" Me too. I had fruit too."
" You had fruit too?"
" Yes, I had good fruit."
" Me too. I had good fruit too."
" I had a peach."
" You had a peach?"
" Yes, I had a peach. It was a good peach."
" Where did you find a peach?"
" On a peach tree."
" You found a peach on a peach tree?"
" Yes. It was a good peach."
" Where was this peach tree?"
" Down there. Lot's of peaches."
" I'll take a look."
[Sounds of flapping.]
[More sounds of flapping.]
" You were right. Good peach."
" You had a peach too?"
" I had half a peach. Then I dropped it."
[Widespread sounds of bat laughter.]
" I had some pineapple."
[More widespread sounds of bat laughter.]
" You never did."
" Yes I did."
" Fibber."
" No really, I had a piece of pineapple."
" Liar, liar, wings on fire."
" No, I really had pineapple."
" You couldn't bite a grape, let alone a pineapple."
[Widespread sounds of bat laughter.]
" A small human dropped a slice of pineapple."
" So.?"
" So I picked it up and ate the fruit."
" Oh. What did it taste like?"
" What?"
" The piece of pineapple."
" Oh. Tasty. Sweet. Fibrous. Bit like an orange, but different."

And so on until around 3:00am when they suddenly fall silent. After about an hour the songbirds take over, led by the kookaburras, heralding the dawn, which arrives about an hour after the birds first start making noises. Fortunately the majority of the bats have now moved on to bother someone else.