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On Gins

On Gins

Recently, Washington state started allowing liquor sales at stores other than those run by the state. This has meant that price competition can flourish, and selection has increased. One thing that we have discovered is the prevalence of excellent Pacific Northwest gin. Now, I’m sure it was always there, but it’s never been something that we have tried, keeping more with vodka or rum (and, of course, beer and cider!).

With this new-found prevalence of excellent gin, we have been embarking on a taste tour of the different varieties, and have found wide variety between the different brands. What we have determined, for ourselves, is that there should be a noticeable taste of juniper. You’d think this would be a standard feature of gin, but it seems that there is a movement away from the traditional taste in order to accommodate a youth that is more used to drinking only vodka-based cocktails. Decent gin, like all decent liquor, isn’t cheap. I’ve never minded paying a premium for quality, but when I spend quite a bit on a gin, and it’s more of a flavored vodka, I feel truly aggrieved. Thus, I present my list of gins that we have enjoyed or not enjoyed.

Ebb+Flow

This is one of the best of the bunch. Distilled right here in the Pacific Northwest, by a distillery that claims to be the first since Prohibition. The botanicals are noticeable, but are not overwhelming. When it is poured over ice, it becomes cloudy, which I can only attribute to the infusion of oils. I don’t know why, but I find this a mark of excellent gin.

Bombay Sapphire

No real introduction needed. A perfectly decent, common gin. It’s pretty cheap, and almost every bar will have it. Not something I buy for the house, but it’s a nice choice when out, especially in places that don’t have local spirits. The flavors are all nice, but they are subtle and subdued.

Hendrick’s

Perhaps a gin with more hype than it’s worth, this is a very nice gin. The price his high for what it is, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s a nice change of pace. Ebb+Flow has a bit of a bite, but Hendrck’s is much smoother. Their claim to fame is that they distill in rose and cucumber, but truthfully, I couldn’t taste it. Even with the increased cost, I really think this gin is one worth trying, if only to get the fun bottle!

Oola

Pricey and mediocre, this is a true flavored vodka. It isn’t bad, it just isn’t good. Almost no juniper or botanical flavors. No bite. No anything to distinguish it. You could do worse, but you could also do so much better.

Counter

Inexpensive. The flavor is similar to Oola, but the botanicals are more pronounced and the low price makes me not care as much. I’ll happily finish the bottle I have, but I’m not planning on buying it again.

Blue Flame

Not just the worst gin I’ve tried, but one of the worst liquors I’ve ever had. Gin is a neutral spirit that is then infused with the botanicals. Blue Flame tasted more like tequila with botanicals, and that is not a pleasant taste. It has been consigned to the top shelf of the pantry, too expensive to throw away, but too lousy to drink.

Conclusion

This is my basic rundown of the gins we’ve tried so far. With the exception of Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s, all are Pacific Northwest distilleries. There are still a few left to try, but honestly, every failed gin is an expensive waste. I drink to enjoy, not to force myself to drink something that I don’t like very much, so I end up putting the mediocre bottles to one side, assuring myself that I’ll drink them eventually, and then I never do. For now, I’ll probably stick to what is tried and true, and save the experimenting for a later date.

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In short, my answer is no.

However, today I read an interesting article where the author basically argued that the life of the e-reader is time-limited. I could not disagree more.

Let’s take this quote:

…it is clear that e-ink is progressing towards a colorful, responsive, video-capable future…

 

I don’t think this is entirely true. Naturally, there is some truth in the fact that e-readers are commonly found in tablets. Or rather, many people use their tablet as an e-reader. I fall squarely into this category. When I read a book, it is always on my iPad. In fact, I read everything on my iPad, my iPhone, or on my MacBook Pro. I really don’t pick up physical printed text anymore. I occasionally buy a copy of the newspaper, and I do subscribe to some magazines/journals that do not have electronic editions, but for the most part, I’m always on some iDevice or another. That’s not to say I think print is “dead,” but I always have at least my phone with me, and I like to read all the time, so it just isn’t practical for me to have a book or magazine with me all the time.

How my Wife Uses an E-Reader

Now, a perfect example of why the e-reader isn’t dead is my wife. She does carry a book with her everywhere. And not just a book, but massive tomes of rubbish Science Fiction. Nasty, heavy books. She asked for, and received, a Kindle for Christmas. It’s fantastic for her. She always has it, it’s a dedicated device that works perfectly for what she wants. She can carry numerous books, and she even can “check” out e-books from the library. It’s all pretty slick.

This single-use functionality, in my opinion is A Good Thing. I think that for some people, my wife included, distraction-free reading is a highly desirable quality. When I read on an iDevice, I am constantly being “reminded” of something while I am reading, and I go to look it up online, or read the Wiki article, or do one of another hundred things. I never seem to get through a book.

Size, Weight, and Battery

If you’ve never held a Kindle, find a store that sells them and see it. They are shockingly light. My wife’s Kindle weighs only 5.98 ounces. My iPad, though, weighs in at a hefty 1.6 pounds! That my not sound like much, but trust me, when you are holding the thing to read it like a book, it gets heavy. Fast. It’s amazingly lightweight. Also, it is sized like a book. A big book, sure, but it isn’t absurdly large. It fits nicely in any bag, and you never know it’s there.

Battery life is also drastically different. My iPad needs to be charged at least daily, if not more often. She’s had her Kindle since Christmas, and it isn’t even close to needing a charge. It’s wonderful to think that one gadget can be safely left in your bag overnight without the horrible feeling in the morning when you realize it didn’t get charged. It would also be great to not have to have chargers in different places in the house, at work, in the car, etc.

E-Ink

When you hold the Kindle, you’ll notice the screen. E-ink is an odd thing that I feel needs to be seen to understand why it is so great. It really looks like a typical printed book. Again, for a tablet experience, this isn’t ideal, but for reading, the goal is to get lost in what you are reading. A book should look like a book, and that it what the Kindle provides. No frills, nothing fancy. Reading on any iDevice is like reading on a computer screen. Great for websites, magazines, and other content, but crap for books. Seriously, who really likes reading on their computer screen. The glare gets to you, your eyes get tired, and all the while you are waiting for the inevitable headache. E-ink is not like a computer screen. A very big advantage, in my opinion.

It also has to be said, since it is said everywhere, that you can read a Kindle in full sunlight, just like a book, whereas you cannot see the screen of an iPad in the sun. However, you can read in the dark on an iPad, but not on a Kindle.

Cost

This aspect cannot be discounted enough. The cheapest Kindle is $79. With free shipping. In the world of electronic gadgets, this is cheap. And the Kindle, it has to be said, feels cheap. Not poorly made, mind you, but made inexpensively made. Amazon obviously wanted to get these things as inexpensive as possible to make them as widely available as possible. An iPad, on the other hand, starts at $499. It feels expensive. The quality and craftsmanship is very noticeable. You get what you pay for. Again, depending on what you want it for depends on what you buy, but if you were going to read by the pool or on a beach, would you rather risk a $79 device, or a $499 device? How about on the train to work?

(The prices also reflect a bit on the different profit-making strategies of Apple and Amazon. Apple provides content (movies, music, apps) to get you to buy their hardware. Amazon, on the other hand, provides cheap hardware to get you to buy their content. Not really relevant to this post, but an interesting thing to keep in mind when thinking about the drastic price differences between Amazon and Apple.)

Conclusion

I don’t personally own an e-reader. Yet. I do plan on buying one for myself just as soon as I can come up with a reason (any reason) that I “need” one! For someone like my wife, though, the Kindle is a far better gadget for her to carry than an iPad would be, and that is simply because of how she consumes content. She reads books, I read internet articles. For me, an iPad is the better choice, for her, not so much.

The e-reader is currently a bit of niche device, but I do not see that niche growing any smaller in the near term. There will always be people who just want to read in a nice, simple way, without any frills or video or distractions.

Now, if only Apple would release an iReader…

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Now that a new year has started, I’ve decided that my one “resolution” will be to pay more attention to this blog. My first year of hosting cost me only $10 (including domain registration), and since the price will soon jump, it’s time for me to either use all that my hosting provides, or give it up. I realize that, for the most part, this will be nothing by banalities to most people (including me, perhaps), but it will be a nice outlet for all things I’m reading about and experiencing. The Pacific Northwest is an exciting place, and we never seem to have a lack of new experiences to share. From cider to beer to beautiful scenery, the Puget Sound has a pretty diverse offering that is very, very different from SoCal.

Further to this stated goal, the blog will no longer focus on British politics. While Parliament will still be represented here in some force, my focus will be more general. I’m hoping posts will run the gambit from politics to tech to personal things. I’ve been following tech much more closely lately, and I’ve even been dabbling in a bit of coding, so I hope to share some snippets of excitement as I find them.

That sums it up for now, but I hope to be back in force soon!

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Cameron Vacation

There has been a veritable kerfuffle lately about politicians, especially David Cameron, being on vacation during recent crises. The downgrading of the US credit rating, riots in London and other cities, Libya getting interesting again – the list goes on. Almost universally, from tabloid to broadsheet and everything in between, there has been condemnation of the idea that politicians take some time off. I disagree with that whole notion that it is A Bad Thing, and there are a number of reasons why:

First, there is no chance that politicians are actually “switched off” when they are holidaying. There are, of course, computers, phones, and the internet. Additionally, there is an army of Civil Service staff, political staff, and other ministers who are able to monitor what is going on. It’s not like the entire government machine is suddenly sunning itself, simultaneously, in the South of France.

Second, time off is therapeutic and essential for mental well-being. Even for a low-stress job, a week or two off here and there is restorative and makes one a better employee, more able to work and concentrate. When someone is in a high-stress job (like, say, running a country), I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a little time away is even more important.

Third, it’s just “normal” to take a vacation. There have been politicians who can’t seem to take any time off (I’m looking at you, Gordon Brown), and when there is that kind of inability to get away, it’s a little worrying about personal values. The “workaholic” tendency is great for someone with a high power job (after all, how do you think they got to where they are?), but when it goes too far, and lasts too long, the risk of burn-out becomes very real.

Should David Cameron have been on a summer vacation? Absolutely. Should he have come back when the riots broke out? Debatable, but I think yes. In a crisis situation, a politician needs to look in control, to reassure the nation. Being in Italy does not exude control, and refusing to come back makes him look out of touch. Finally, should he have come back from vacation for the recent developments in Libya? I don’t think so. What is happening is out of his control, and most people don’t really care what his happening in a country that, until recently, most couldn’t pick out on a map.

Holiday time is tricky for politicians. I think almost everyone understands why it’s important for them to get away, but with the media running stories like the one below, it can get more and more difficult for them to take the time they need to recharge their batteries. I don’t think it’s David Cameron who is the “plonker.”

Mirror 110822

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Marmite

Marmite

 

In my never ending quest to experience all things British, I bought myself a jar of Marmite. Now, I know that Marmite is not universally loved, but I know it is popular in the UK, so I figured it couldn’t be all horrible. The small jar cost me about $7 due to it being an imported product, but I was prepared for that.

So, I got the jar home, opened it, and tried not to smell it too much. Sadly, the smell was exactly the same as vitamin drops that my sister used to use for her pet rats, so the scent association did not start off too positive. I pushed past this, keeping and open mind, and spread a thin layer (exactly as the directions state) on a fantastic piece of Dave’s Killer Bread Powerseed toast.

The conclusion: Marmite is vile. I really can’t decide what the merits of it are. I want desperately to like it, and I’ve given it a few tries, but I can’t seem to find the goodness in it.

The taste is almost indescribable, but I’ll try. It’s very savory, and it’s very strong. There is a strong taste of beefyness, but also a distinct vegetable taste, although I can’t identify any particular vegetable in that taste.

I suppose in the past, there was a usefulness in providing nutrition in an inexpensive form, but I can only suppose that the remaining love for it in Britain is a cultural love, rather than a true taste love.

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Cameron Clegg NHS

The Government has announced today that it has changed previously announced plans for NHS reform. David Cameron argues that the fundamentals are all where they were 10 weeks ago when the plans were put on hold for a “listening exercise,” but the Nick Clegg is seeing the policy changes as a victory for his party. Can’t really have it both ways, but there you are.

My point, though, has to do with the reporting that this is a u-turn, and that a u-turn is A Bad Thing. I understand that the public wants its leaders to always be right, and to always have the answers, but sometimes they don’t. Politicians are people, and when a policy is announced, they are doing nothing more than making a very educated guess that the public will support it and will think it’s a good idea. Sometimes they get it wrong, and then the public is stuck with a hot mess of legislation. Whether it be from hubris or simple ignorance, the fact remains that politicians do not change their minds.

That the Coalition has made a volte-face is, in my opinion, A Good Thing. They saw that their health policy was deeply unpopular and misunderstood, and put the brakes on it while they took the time to explain it and refine it. How much it has changed is open to debate, but they still listened. Maybe it was nothing more than cynical politics to fool the public, but if it was, then it was a lousy decision as the Coalition has been mocked and mocked. I celebrate the fact that they listened; isn’t that what we all want politicians to do?

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Lords ChamberReform of the House of Lords is rearing its ugly head as the Coalition strives to make inroads in to constitutional reform. In a process first begun in 1911, the Commons is looking to finish the process of removing the remaining hereditary members of the Lords (92 – including the two Great Offices of State where the holders must be Peers – whom remain), and to even potentially move toward an elected second chamber. On the surface, this sounds very noble and in the public interest. As an American, I can appreciate the concept of democratically elected leaders (We elect everyone from the President to the Water Board members, after all), but the UK has a very different tradition. The Commons is the lower house, and all are subject to the will of the Queen (at least notionally).

In the wake of the expenses scandal, and with public trust in politicians running low, it is understandable that the Government, and the Opposition for that matter, are eager to push through a populist idea like an elected Upper House. Politicians, though, need to take a step back and take some time to think about what they are doing. It has taken hundreds of years for the Commons to assert itself as the senior of the two houses, and that has been based in large part on the fact that it is elected. This gives them legitimacy with the public, as well as a mandate to govern as they see fit. Money bills must originate in the Commons for this reason, and the Lords cannot block them. Also, under the Salisbury Doctrine, the Lords do not block Commons business that was in the manifesto of the governing part (a very interesting constitutional issue with the current Coalition Government that I intend on returning to later). The constitution of the UK has evolved over time to accommodate these peculiarities, and it works very well.

The Lords prides itself on being a reforming chamber, composed of notable members from the areas of education, science, the arts, and, yes, politics. Without elections to fight, the Lords are free to revise and amend legislation in the best interests of the country, free from the politicking that comes with the threat of elections. Yes, being elected keeps politicians honest, but the Commons (using the Parliament Act) has the power to force legislation through that it deems necessary. The conditions that must be met to veto the Lords are steep, but it has been done and it shows that the elected house can still get its way.

Having another elected chamber would also increase the expense of government, at a time where the Coalition is pushing through a policy of significant cuts. Lords are not payed a salary, per se. Rather, they are allowed a daily allowance of only £300. Yes, Peers may continue to work outside of Parliament, but for the “working peers” (those that were appointed by a party to attend and vote on a regular basis), this can severely impact on their financial situation. As PoliticsHome today reports, Lord Taylor of Warwick has been found guilty of claiming expenses he was not entitled to. His defense, according to The Times, was that it was “common practice” for Noble Lords to claim expenses in lieu of a salary. While his defense is weak and worthless, it does draw attention to the fact that for some Lords, being a Peer is impossible for financial reasons. Membership of the House should be based solely on merit and ability, not on personal wealth.

Tinkering with the Lords has proven a monumental and toxic task to many Governments. It has been done mostly in half-baked and poorly thought out ways. If the Lords are to be reformed, a powerful government would be needed (since Peers would likely oppose legislation relating to their reform), and it would have to take up valuable time to legislate in an area that many members just don’t feel to be that important. The Coalition agreement states:

We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.

The Conservative 2010 General Election manifesto stated:

We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords…

And the LibDem manifesto stated:

Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House.

Obviously, both parties want some kind of Lords reform, and the Coalition Agreement is pretty much in line with their manifestos. This will make it harder for the Lords to block, but harder does not mean impossible.

I’ll say it again. The public isn’t that concerned with Lords reform. Crime, education, taxes, employment. Those are things the public cares about. Lords reform is something that, as David Cameron said, should be a “third-term issue.”

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With Alan Johnson having resigned his post, it certainly makes the new year for Labour have an exciting start. Falling to the old standby of saying it is for “for personal and family reasons” does leave me wondering if there is more to it. With him recently making a series of horrid gaffes, including not knowing the employer rates for NI, and joking that he needed to buy an “economics for dummies” book, his downfall has always seemed more of a “when” than an “if.”

I do have to say, though, that I was surprised how quickly he moved out of the job. Having been selected only at the Labour conference last year, l would have estimated he would have lasted about a year. Keeping in mind the recent loos of Phil Woolas, it does being to call in to question Ed Miliband’s ability to select a decent shadow ministerial team. With only four months under his belt, losing the second-most important person in the Shadow Cabinet is not just a routine resignation.

With Ed Balls being selected as replacement (which he should have had the job in the first place), the Coalition will finally have a real opponent on the economy. Ed Balls is a tough operator, and he knows the game of politics well. However, the Government will be able to make its case for cuts without looking like they are beating up the slow kid in class. They will, however, be able to constantly pick at the tension between Balls and Miliband. It was not accident that Balls was not chosen in the first place. Labour will be desperate to make sure they do not have a repeat of the Blair/Brown dynamic. With Ed Balls out to take the leadership eventually, this will be a challenge to avoid. Any sign of a public split between the Labour leader and his Shadow Chancellor will be pounced upon by the media and the Government. It won’t just be those in the Westminster Village who notice it either, this is of interest to most people.

One thing is certain: the next time George Osborne appears in the Commons, it promises to be an exciting time!

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