Shapes Barbecue – New And Improved

August 29, 2016 at 16:19 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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shapesboxesIt’s taken me a bit too long to catch onto this, but there has been a veritable social media frenzy going on recently that dwarfs even gossip about failing censuses or the latest from The Donald. Yes, it’s the reaction to Arnott’s ‘New and Improved’ Shapes.

Shapes are, of course, a range of savoury snack biscuits that boast the unusual feature of having ‘flavour you can see’. Except that, in the new version, apparently you can’t.

Arnott’s have launched a whole new range, including new and improved version of some of the classic flavours. However, I guess to hedge their bets, they are also still making the original version of two types – BBQ and Chicken Crimpy. So, when I saw both the original and new on sale at the supermarket, I bought a packet of each to do the definitive taste test.

But before we get to the comparison, let’s take a look at a few choice comments on Arnott’s facebook page.

shapesfb

Oh dear.

And on twitter?

shapestwit

Hmmm.

So what prompted Arnott’s to change this iconic snack – which has been in production for over 50 years? Well, apparently people were complaining that they wanted more flavour on their Shapes, and that the flavour wouldn’t stay stuck to the biscuit. Pesky stuff that visible flavour. I must admit, reasonably tuned into to the biscuit world as I am, this was not an issue I was aware off. Indeed, for many people having the flavour fall off is kind of the point, as it means the last biscuits in the pack accumulate the flavour that has dropped of the ones above. And then, at the end of the pack you get the pleasure of running a finger inside the pack to collect the dregs of flavour that remain. The whole thing could have been designed to deliver a gradually-increasing dose of Flavour You Can See, culminating in that last, luscious hit of salt and monosodium glutamate. But apparently this way of enjoying Shapes was passé, and a redesign to get more flavour, more consistently on each biscuit was required.

shapesbiscuits

This redesign was about more than just the flavour adherence mechanic, however. It was also about the flavour itself. Changes to the recipe were made, which somehow also yields the New And Improved versions an extra health star. Looking at the nutrition panels on each box, it seems pretty much everything is the same, except the new ones have less salt and more sugar.

Anyway, enough of all that. How to they compare? Well, you can read about the original ones here, as I looked at them some time ago.

Compared to the originals, the new ones have a slightly lighter, more open texture, which actually I quite liked. However, things are not so happy in the flavour department. The new ones are clearly much sweeter (that extra sugar), and amazingly even more artificial tasting. Besting the originals on artificial-ness was a big ask, but the Arnott’s team have managed it. Overall, the new flavour is not very nice. Too sweet, to cloying. It’s hard to eat a whole box of these in one go; they get sickly. The originals, by contrast, are highly addictive and are gone in a flash.

Having drawn my own conclusions, I put out the two types in different bowls next to each other in the office. The Original flavour bowl was empty in about 10 minutes; an hour later there were still some left in the ‘New And Improved’ bowl. So clearly my co-workers agree with my assessment.

So will Arnott’s relent? Will they retire the New And Improved, and quietly revert to the originals? In the meantime, I’m going to give these New And Improved BBQ Shapes a 2 out of 10.

T1 bike trailer / towable luggage…

August 23, 2016 at 11:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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trailerPushy’s had a mid-season sale recently, and there were some bargains to be had. And given that the objective of buying things ins a sale is not to buy things you actually need, but rather save as much money as possible by buying things you probably don’t need but which are heavily discounted, I found myself purchasing a DOM T1 bike trailer – reduced from $650 to $99. I mean, who could pass that up?

It duly arrived, and my initial impressions were favourable. It’s well made, with a high quality finish and some nice design touches. It hitches to the bike via a small loop / hook which bolts onto the rear axle (an extra-long QR skewer is supplied for those needing such a thing).

So what it is? Well, it’s advertised as a trailer, but to be honest ‘towable luggage’ would be a fairer description. It’s a large-ish suitcase with oversized flip-out wheels and a towing handle that can be attached to the back of a bike. The wheels are pneumatic, but are small and skinny – think pram wheels, rather than bike wheels.

hitchIt’s perhaps for this reason the instructions stress that the maximum recommended speed is 25km/h – less if you are riding on uneven surfaces. A ‘go anywhere’ adventure trailer this is not. It’s not really a touring trailer. It’s for doing short-ish flat-ish slow-ish rides. Think riding to the station or airport (when folded down, it can be checked in as hold luggage – it comes with an external cover to protect it in transit).

I think it could actually be quite useful for me; I’ve been looking for a solution to allow me to cycle to the airport when I travel on business, and this might just work – as is for longer trips, or for shorter trips I can put a smaller cabin bag into the trailer for the airport trip, and leave the trailer locked up with my bike whilst I’m away.

I’ve never ridden with a trailer on the bike before, and it does feel a little odd – you feel it kind of tugging at the bike as you pedal. But overall it goes along quite well. The warnings about excessive speed and bumps are necessary though – I manged to tip it up on the first trip. Admittedly this was with it empty, and it bounced around much less when loaded. However, it does underline the need for caution – if it hit a pothole, there’s a risk it could go over – which might not be fun if you were in heavy traffic.

trailerfoldedThe only aspect of the design I think could do with a rethink is the way the wheels fold. It’s all very cool they way the fold away (they work as pull-along wheels when folded in), but they fold up kind of backwards. This means that when you are riding, the pressure on the wheels pulling them backwards makes them want to fold up – especially on uneven surfaces. This means you have to do up the quick-release cams super-tight to ensure this doesn’t happen, which makes folding and unfolding harder than it needs to be. Some sort of locking mechanism to prevent the wheels folding when in use would be handy,

Anyway, I’m very excited about my new purchase. A genuine bargain for $99! Now we’ll see how often it actually gets used…

 

Here’s a video of me riding with it, and tipping it over going up a pram ramp…

trailervid1

Nod – Adrian Barnes

August 15, 2016 at 21:57 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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nod adrian barnesHurrah! I finally got around to reading another book. Regular readers would be forgiven for thinking that the ‘book’ part of my blog title seems rather irrelevant. Apologies for this, dear readers. I will do my best to make amends.

I picked up ‘Nod’ by Adrian Barnes from my local library, when I was there with the junior Chillikebabs. Aren’t libraries great! Just like bookshops, except the books are free, and there is fast wifi. We go there a lot, but only ever get out kids book. So my new resolution is borrow (and then read) at least one grown-up book on each visit.

Nod is a dystopian novel, set in a contemporary world where, suddenly, almost no-one is able to sleep. As sleep deprivation takes hold, society falls apart alarmingly quickly. A few lucky individuals, including the books main protagonist and narrator, Paul, are able to sleep – but they all have the same strange dream. And some children are also able to sleep – but are rendered mute and unemotional, moving to live rough in a park all together.

At all sounds very weird when I write it like that, and I guess it is; as the book progresses it becomes more and more dream-like, mirroring the decaying mental state of the ‘Awakened’ – those that are unable to sleep. Strange cults begin to develop, behaviour becomes savage and violent, and through it all glide the serene ‘Sleeper’ children.

I enjoyed it a lot, although felt it was just a bit short of being a great book. Some of the literary allusions are a bit too forced, and at times it descends into a zombie-horror-flick parody. However, those are minor criticisms, it’s a book that stays with you for a while after you read it and which has some thought-provoking themes.

 

Kids, helmets and changing play

August 8, 2016 at 12:07 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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kids on bike helmetsHere’s the Chillikebab kids, ready for an outing to the park for a picnic. See the excited faces! And check out how different they look form a few years ago

There’s also another difference you may have spotted, too. Yes, they are wearing bike helmets. Not because I made them or even asked them to, of course. But because they wanted to. And whilst I’m no fan of helmets, I am all for personal choice – and if they want to wear them, and feel more comfortable with them on, then that’s what we will do.

However, it does bear some examination. I stopped wearing a helmet before they were born, and up until now they have never had one. So what changed?

Well, going to school. Their teachers promote helmet wearing as part of ‘safety awareness’. They have had in-school visits from Kidsafe (an organisation I have very little time for, btw). And there is peer pressure from their friends.

I have gently asked them about all of this, and told them it’s up to them if they want to wear one or not – that some people do, and some people don’t. But they now prefer to have them on.

This makes me somewhat sad. Not because they are wearing helmets per se, but because of what it is doing to the way they play. They often have their bikes and scooters out in the garden, and used to charge around on them from time to time, in the middle of whatever game. Now they have to come and find one of us to put their helmets on. And then take them off again. Which kind of kills the spontaneity – which means they ride their bikes and scooters less.

It’s quite noticeable. The negative pressure on bicycle usage from helmet compulsion is something I am very familiar with from the academic literature, of course. But it’s very sad to see it first hand, with your own kids. To see that they are discouraged from doing something safe, fun and healthy because of the insidious pressure from the plastic hat brigade.

 

Tim Tam Toffee Apple

July 26, 2016 at 15:24 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Atim tam toffee apple packnother day, another Tim Tam flavour. I feel a little sad about all this, actually. A new Tim Tam flavour used to be a major event. Something pretty seismic. Certainly worthy of significant excitement.

tim tam toffee apple biscuitBut now, well, some of that is gone. Flavours come and go, and unless you are quick you might not even realise it before it disappears again, only to be replaced by yet another. What used to be something sweated over; the evolution of a cultural icon, now seems to be a mere pawn in the commercial objectives to keep major supermarkets onside. Exhibit a) – these are only available in Woolies.

Sorry, didn’t mean to get maudlin there. Let’s get into this.

For me, toffee apples are associated with Halloween. Generally they consist of cheap hard caramel over an even cheaper apple, jammed on a stick. I haven’t had one for years, but I think the generally accepted way to eat them is to chew off the toffee bit whilst aiming for minimal apple consumption, and then throw the apple away.

So how does this new Tim Tam measure up? Well, the inside is a rather startling red colour, I suppose to evoke the look of a red apple. They do have an applely (appley? Applee?) aroma. To taste they sort of do taste like cheap apple with cheap caramel, so I suppose they do evoke those childhood Halloween memories.

I’m doing them a bit of a disservice. They are actually not too bad. A bit over sweet, perhaps, and without a great deal of depth, Definitely not a classic. But far from offensive. I’m going to give them a five out of ten.

 

 

Shimano Sports Camera CM-1000

July 19, 2016 at 14:32 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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CM1000As you may have noted elsewhere in my blog, I have another camera in my bike arsenal. I’d been thinking about a front-facing camera as a counterpart to my Fly6 on the rear, and had seen the CM-1000 a few times. It looked quite good – the main attractions being it is waterproof without needing a housing, and quite low-profile. The RRP seemed to be around the $460 mark though, which seemed quite a lot, given that’s about the price of the Fly12 (the front light / camera combo from Cycliq). It also didn’t seem to have that important feature of the Fly range – the ability to automatically overwrite old files, meaning you don’t need to faff around deleting thigns to make space on the memory card.

Then I spotted it online from an Australian retailer for about $160. This was too good an opportunity to pass up, although it did cross my mind that if it was being discounted that heavily, perhaps it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be…

cm1000 on barsThe camera itself looks smart enough, but shortly after getting it out of the box I discovered the first problem. It doesn’t come with a handlebar mount. This is a camera specifically for cycling made by the worlds largest bike component manufacturer. And they don’t give you a clip to mount if on your handlebars. Unbelievable. The mounting is a GoPro style one, so there are plenty of mounts available, but it’s a strange omission – which meant I couldn’t actually use the camera until I bought a mounting for it.

The camera can record at a range of resolutions, angles and frame rates, which are set via a phone app. You connect the camera to your phone via wifi, and can control the various settings, as well as downloading or deleting files and using the phone screen as a viewfinder. This should be good, but unfortunately the connectivity is extremely flaky. It just rarely successfully connects to the phone. And since I upgraded my phone to the latest version of Android, it has never worked. The only way I can now adjust the settings is to us an old android tablet I have, which seems to connect somewhat more successfully. The Google Play store is full of one-star reviews complaining about this, so it’s not just me. I’m not sure if it connects to iDevices more successfully, but for all intents and purposes the app is useless.

This means the camera really can only be used as a basic camera – you can start and stop recording, and then pull the memory card out to copy and delete the videos. Bad luck if your memory card fills up during your ride – you can only delete files with the app, but it doesn’t work, especially when you need it to.

Having said all that, the video quality is good. It records in full HD, and can also record at high frame rates (up to 120fps) if you want to do fancy slo-mo shots. (Although good luck getting the app to work to change these settings…). It has a wide-angle lens, and the setting include a very wide angle mode which captures a lot of your surroundings, if somewhat ‘fisheye’. The sound, however, is terrible. These types of cameras rarely have good sound, mostly picking up wind noise. However, the CM-1000 is a slightly loose fit in the mounting (the original part, not the bit I had to buy) – which means you not only get wind noise, you get a loud rattling sound over all your videos.

Here’s a sample video, taken with the camera pointing backwards on the bars. Note the car who overtakes closer than the legal one metre!

video
(not sure what went wrong with the YouTube upload there – looks very grainy. The original is way clearer.)

What else? Oh yes, the battery life is not very good. I don’y get much more than 90 minutes of recording from a fully charged battery. So I have to charge it up every day in order to record my 45 minute each-way commute.

Apparently you can connect an ANT+ sensor to it, so it can record other data along with the video, such as speed or cadence. I haven’t tried this, but apparently all this does is create a text file of data sampled every second or so whilst the camera is running. When the product was launched some years ago, Shimano promised a video editing app that would then overlay this data back onto the video, but it never eventuated. Given the last firmware update was now almost a year ago, and the current firmware clearly isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t hold your breath that the video app will ever appear. I sense Shimano are no longer actively supporting this product.

So all in all, it’s not a great product. The video quality is good, and it’s nice that it’s waterproof. But everything else is hopeless. For $160, I’m quite happy with it. Had I paid over $400 for it, I’d have been sending it back.

 

Arnott’s Chicken Drumstick Shapes

July 13, 2016 at 16:04 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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shapes chicken drumstick boxAnother day, another savoury snack biscuit to try. These are Chicken Drumstick flavour, although they are unaccountably shaped like cola bottles.

Arnott’s make quite a variety of Shapes, in all sorts of, erm shapes. And flavours – although many of the flavours kind of blur into each other. Truly I think if they switch round the packaging not that many people would notice – ‘chicken’ flavour tastes much like ‘BBQ’ flavour tastes much like ‘pizza’ flavour and so on.

This makes for somewhat problematic reviewing. I mean, a strawberry Tim Tam is clearly quite a different beast to a mint one, so there’s plenty to say. But for these – well, it gets a bit harder. They are a savoury snack biscuit. They are too salty, taste rather artificial, and are very addictive. Oh, and they have flavour you can see. Whatever that means.

To be honest, I’d steer clear of the whole regular Shapes thing, and go with the ‘shapes chicken drumstick biscuitsExtreme‘ range (which actually aren’t ‘extreme’ at all, just more tasty).

I’m going to give these a four out of ten.

 

Postscript
I
 wrote this post before I realised that Arnott’s had revamped their whole shapes line – to considerable controversy! Anyway, this review is now somewhat historical, as this is one of the flavours that was discontinued. I intend to come back to the Great Shapes Controversy very soon!

Arnott’s Shapes Extreme Loaded Mexican Mania

July 8, 2016 at 13:49 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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loaded mexican mania shapes boxLimited Edition! Extreme! Mania! Intense!

I still can’t quite get used to this line from Arnott’s. It’s like someone in the marketing department went rogue, and nobody has yet noticed. I think it is just a rogue marketing thing, as the actual biscuits don’t really live up to the billing.

Not that this is a criticism. Indeed, what you image you are going to get from the description – monosodium glutamate, loads of artificial flavours, tongue-stripping acid – are not there. Rather they are well balanced, tasty snacks that even your granny would enjoy. Clearly the bakers at Arnott’s are not going to be drawn into all this maniacal tomfoolery.

The ‘Loaded Mexican Mania’ ones are not as good as the ‘BBQ Ribs Blast‘ I tried previously, bloaded mexican mania shapes biscuitut were still quite tasty. A little bit of chilli tang (but far from ‘intense’), with a richly savoury flavour. I must say, the texture of these ‘extreme’ snacks is really very good – crisp and moreish. I’m going to give these an eight out of ten.

 

Arnott’s Salted Choc Slice

June 27, 2016 at 10:01 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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The Mint Slice is an Australian icon. Ysalted choc slice packes, perhaps slightly overshadowed by it’s better known Tim Tam brother, but to my mind actually a superior biscuit.

Arnott’s have taken this classic, and ‘twisted’ it, with an oh-so-trendy salted version, replacing the peppermint cream with what appears to be Tim Tam filling, enhanced with the addition of salt.

Salt seems to be the magic ingredient being added to all manner of confectionery and cakes at the moment. I suppose that making things even more unhealthy usually enhances the appeal. These biscuits rate a whole ‘0.5 out of 5’ stars on the Health Star Rating, so you know there’re going to be good.

salted choc slide biscuitAnd they are good. Smooth chocolaty cream, with just a hint of the salt at the end, on that rich biscuit base enrobed with thick dark chocolate. Oh yes, these are at least as addictive as the original. Eating a whole pack of these is waaaay to easy.

I’m giving them a nine and a half out of ten. Top stuff, Arnott’s.

Arnott’s Ginger Nut – the ultimate taste-off

June 20, 2016 at 14:19 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Arnott's ginger nut full set packsYes folks, this is it. The one you have been waiting for. Buckle yourselves in, because we’re going deep into the heart of a great Australian controversy. Just who has the best Ginger Nuts?

To refresh your memory, Arnott’s make a slightly different kind of Ginger Nut for each state. In fact they make four different types, to cater for the different sensibilities of Australians. They were forced to do this after riots broke out when, after consolidating all their baking operations into NSW, they tried to foist the NSW Ginger Nut on the whole country. This is all familiar history, of course; we all know the story of how the GG had to step in, parliament was dissolved, elections were held and Arnott’s were forced, by deed of legislation, to recreate each type of Ginger Nut as used to be baked by its regional bakeries. (And you thought the Dismissal was a CIA plot…)

So let’s get into this. We’ve looked at the NSW Ginger Nut before in some detail, but to help me with this important quest I trawled through my little black book of biscuit fanatics to pull together a small team to help with the tasting – including representatives of each state to ensure a balanced panel.

First, some key stats.

ginger nut basic stats

All the packs are a uniform 250g, but as you can see the number of biscuits you get varies very widely. Queenslanders have a wide diameter but are lightweight, and the biscuits Arnott’s bake for them are large and thin. Heaviest are the New South Welsh, who are also amongst the thickest, and the biscuit Arnott’s bakes for them is of average diameter. (Hmm, I sense this line of humour is going to get stale rather quickly. Unlike Arnott’s biscuits, which have quite a satisfactory shelf life. (Please stop now. Just stop. Ed.))

ginger nut biscuits 2They do actually look quite different – the QLD one is darker, for example, and has sugar glistening on the top. Interestingly they all have exactly the same list of ingredients – but the order of the ingredients is different on each pack. So the recipes are a bit different, it’s not just how long they are baked.  They also have slightly different energy ratings – with the QLD variety having a few more calories than the others. Those on the diet should stick the the NSW ones, which are 5% less calorific than the QLD variety.

Yes yes yes, I hear you cry impatiently, that’s all very interesting, but what do they taste like?

Wginger nut biscuitsell, they do actually all taste different. The Victorian ones, for example, are more gingery than the others, whilst the QLD ones have more of a gingerbread taste, rather than a ginger biscuit flavour. Less hot, more mellow.

And of course, the texture varies quite a lot. The extraordinary hardness of the NSW variety is utterly unmatched by it’s brethren, with the SA/WA version seeming very chewable by comparison. The QLD version is much crumblier, which coupled with the thin biscuit makes them very easy to eat fast. The Victorian version has a nice crunch to it, and texture-wise is probably the closest to the Ginger Nut archetype.

Interested in some more statistics? Here’s the biscuit density, in grammes per millimetre cubed, along with the tensile strength:

ginger nut strength

Of course, there is another aspect to the Ginger Nut which is very important – that that is its dunkability. The NSW Ginger Nut, it has been oft observed, meets hot tea like a <insert inappropriate metaphor here>, yielding into soft, chewy goodness (but never crumbling into the tea, heaven forbid!).

How do the others stack up? Well, the QLD is a complete failure in this department. It goes soggy very fast, the structural integrity is gone, and the texture quickly goes to mush. Not good at all. The Victorian version is a little better, but only a little, with the exterior of the biscuit going squishy too quickly – also the stronger ginger flavour kind of fights against the tea. The SA/WA biscuits are really not bad at all in hot tea – they hold up well, and soften nicely delivering an enhanced taste. However, it comes as no surprise that the NSW Ginger Nut holds up as dunker supreme. Indeed, whilst we were doing the tasting, the SA taster (who up until then had been deeply suspicious of the NSW variety) went into raptures over his dunked NSW biscuit. ‘Oh yes,’ he moaned. ‘Oh yes, this is sensational…’

And so, we come to the final tally. For, in biscuits as in life, there can be only one winner. Only one state can stand tall. There is only one best Ginger Nut. And with that, let us reveal the final scores:

NSW:  8 out of 10

VIC:   7.8 out of 10

SA/WA:   7.6 out of 10

QLD:   5 out of 10

 

Let the riots begin…

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