And again….

July 23, 2018 at 21:57 | Posted in bicycles | 10 Comments
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Yes, it happened again. Again, when I was stationary. Festooned in hi-viz and flashing lights. A car drove into me – a sort of low-speed crunching as my bicycle was devoured by the front of his gas-guzzling SUV. Thankfully the driver stopped before he got to me, leaving my bike jammed under his car, my saddle (where I was sitting) hard up against his bonnet. (video here)

It is getting worse out there. Drivers are increasingly distracted. Mobile phone use is endemic, and rarely properly policed. Most modern cars now feature touch-screens that take drivers attention away from the road for ten or twenty seconds at a time as they prod at it to change the radio or operate the sat nav.

Against this near-universal back drop, in Sydney it is further stoked by the increasing aggression shown by drivers towards cyclists. This is rooted in the aggressively anti-cycling stance of the state government, coupled with heavy handed anti-cycling policing, all capped with a broadly anti-cycling safety ‘industry’ that seeks to blame cyclists for the increasing road toll and a populist media near universally playing the ‘law-breaking cyclist’ and ‘war on the roads’ angles constantly.

I am now at a point, sad to say, where I would not recommend to anyone they cycle in Sydney. I used to encourage my colleagues to cycle to work. I no longer do that. The environment is so hostile that I can’t recommend it. This, of course, makes me very sad, and also very angry. The sheer stupidity and short-sightedness of our policy makers and media is breathtaking. In the latest NSW budget, there are zero dollars for cycling, and all mentions of cycling targets or programs have been expunged from the Transport for NSW website. Pretty much all that remains are pages telling cyclists to wear helmets and ‘share the road’.

Well, I was sharing the road the other day. It just seems others don’t want to share it with me.

 

PS The police, predictably, refused to take a statement or follow up the incident, even when given the video footage. Too busy policing deserted stop signs, perhaps.

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Arnott’s Tiny Teddy Cheesy Crackers

July 23, 2018 at 21:31 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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There is a definite phenomenon in my life that when I like something, they stop making it. It all started with ‘All Butter Crunch’, an own-brand biscuit from the UK supermarket Sainsburys. It was a feature of my youth – all the elder Chillikebab clan loved them. In some ways, my passion for biscuits perhaps stems from that one sweetmeat, fondly remembered from when I was eight years old. And then they stopped making it. (The same thing happened with Coffee and Walnut Angel Delight, I recall).

More recently, they stopped making Cheesy Stars. These were a star-shaped cheesy snack that you could buy in Coles. They were quite a feature in the contemporary Chillikebab household – especially by Mrs Chillikebab, who loved them, ploughing through packs ostensibly bought for the kids lunchboxes. Anyway, they stopped making those too. But never fear, dear friends, for into that breach has stepped Arnott’s, with a re-imagining of the Tiny Teddy into a whole new dimension.

Yes, savoury Tiny Teddies. Who would have thought? They are cheesy, and crackery. This brings a whole new level of chompability to the genre – they have an excellent crunch, and a good salty, cheesy flavour. We like them. Not quite as much as cheesy stars, but almost. I wonder if Arnott’s are planning any over savoury cross-overs? Other than the famous cheese Tim Tam, of course.

I’m going to give these an eight out of ten.

New Camera – Shimano CM-2000

June 27, 2018 at 21:40 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A few months ago, the Shimano camera I have facing forward on my bike fell off. The clip isn’t all that great, and I apparently hadn’t secured it properly. After pinging across the road, it still worked – but the lens was cracked. A new lens cost $40, so I didn’t buy one; after all the camera came with a spare one (of a different shape for using under water) which I thought would be fine. Except that I couldn’t find it anywhere. And then it seems what remaining stocks of spare lenses that might have been around evaporated, and were no longer available anywhere.

The great thing about Shimano bike cameras though is that they are absolutely awful. Not the actual camera bit;  the physical design (apart perhaps for the clip) and the video quality is fine. No, rather all the other bits are awful. They WiFi connection is flaky as. The battery life is ordinary. The app is a disaster. The promised video editing software to overlay your data has never made an appearance. This means that, when launched, they retail at $500 but after a while are available for a song as no-one wants to buy them.

And it seems Shimano made a version 2 bike cam, and this too is awful, and is now also available for a song. A $149 song, in fact – which is not a bad price for a high-quality HD waterproof camera, even if none of the other features work. So I bought one. Although they still don’t include a handlebar mount, I was able it improvise a stem mount from the helmet mount and some cable ties.

It’s definitely better than version 1 – especially in low light. But the clip is exactly the same. And on the third outing with the new camera, it too pinged across the road after going over a bump. Luckily, the lens was not broken (the design means it’s a bit less vulnerable than version 1), and it still works…

Another perfect pass

June 4, 2018 at 09:25 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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You may remember a little while ago I blogged about a truck driver who gave me plenty of room. Well, I had another very positive experience the other day with a cement truck driver. It was around the same spot, at a point where the bike lane (a painted on one of course, so not proper bike infrastructure) follows the road around to the left, and I wanted to go straight on – meaning I have to go across the car lane.

I was looking behind me, and saw the truck was coming up behind, so I slowed to enable him to pass so I could cross behind him. However, he realised what I needed to do, and was very helpful in making room, not overtaking me and ensuring my safety. I called out thanks, and he gave me a thumbs up from his cab as he went by. Top notch stuff from Hanson Cement – I took a moment to drop a complimentary line to them via their website.

The warm fuzzy feelings evaporated a few seconds later, however, when a bus went roaring past me a few inches from my shoulder. This incident perfectly illustrates why these painted on bike lanes can be worse than no bike lane at all. Because I am in the ‘bike lane’, I am invisible (or at least can be disregarded). But the effect of a large, fast vehicle going past that close to you is extremely unnerving – and the pulse of wind it produces can be quite destabilising.

If you are a driver who does not cycle, please learn from these two incidents. Be a lovely person spreading warm fuzzy goodwill on our roads, not a thoughtless person spreading fear and aggression.

Arnott’s Mini Jatz

May 25, 2018 at 11:34 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Arnott’s have been expanding their range of ‘mini’ biscuits, perhaps driven by the glowing review I gave to the Mini Scotch Fingers. There’s quite a few now, so this week we turn our attention to the Mini Jatz.

First of all, is there also a mini Savoy? The whole Savoy / Jatz thing intrigues me. It would be cool to have a selection pack with both mini Savoy and mini Jatz in it. It would facilitate very easy comparison tastings, for example.

As it is, we get the mini Jatz in a pack together with Mini Scotch Fingers and Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies. They look, well, like mini version of regular Jatz, They are crispy, salty, and quite moreish. So moreish, in fact, that I ploughed through them forgetting to count the number of biscuits in a pack. There’s enough there for a small snack. But you will want more after you finish them.

A solid eight out of ten for this mini contender.

Stop lines and police lines

May 19, 2018 at 11:42 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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[click pic for video] Every day, I cycle through Sydney Olympic Park. As do many cyclists; it has wide roads, relatively light traffic and bike lanes – although they are the worse-then-useless painted on sort.

Some of the junctions have stop signs. But the roads are wide, the traffic is light, the sightlines are excellent (especially on a bike), so traffic pretty much never stops – just slows and then continues.

I, of course, do this on my bike. Having to come to a complete stop and then pick up speed again is tiring and unnecessary. In many places, it’s perfectly legal to do this, of course. It’s called an ‘Idaho stop’, after the first jurisdiction that introduced this rule for bicycles. And interestingly, research shows that places that have implemented the Idaho stop have lower bicycle accident rates at stop lines than those without.

Bu, of course, not in cycling-hating Sydney. Not only is it technically illegal not to completely stop, the police seemingly have nothing better to do that wait behind the bushes at the side of the road, watching out for errant cyclists.

One of those cyclists was me. And, sure enough, neee-naaa nee-naaa, I was pulled over. And I got a ticket. Now, since the even-more-anti-cycling-than-usual roads minister Duncan Gay, fines for bicycle offenses have been jacked up. The fine for this trivial thing? $330. Seriously.

But to make it worse, when I received the ticket it also had three demerit points on it. Now, you can;’t get demerit points for riding a bicycle. Think about it – it makes no sense to lose your licence for something you don’t need a license to do. The NSW Transport Act makes it quite clear that demerits apply only to motor vehicles. But the cop apparently did the paperwork wrong. So not only are the cops vindictive, they are also incompetent.

I didn’t want to schlep to court, but found I could plead guilty by post but ask for mitigating circumstances. I wrote a rather ranty and incoherent letter to the magistrate, and had the fine reduced to $200. But with costs and ‘victims of crime levy’, the total fine ended up being $367. Oh well. At least the demerits were taken off.

If only the police would spend time on offences that actually cause danger and death. Like riding too close to bicycles. Nope, no chance of that…

Arnott’s Shapes Nacho Cheese

May 5, 2018 at 21:56 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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In 1985, Coca-Cola changed the recipe for Coke. Before doing this they engaged in endless trials and taste tests, in order to combat sliding sales against their main rival, Pepsi. But it backfired – everyone hated the new taste. Not long after, Coca-cola re-introduced the original recipe again, and sales rocketed – to the point that many people believe the whole thing was a ploy to drive sales.

I sometimes think about this when I look at the Arnott’s Shapes display in the supermarket. Do you remember the Shapes fiasco? A few years ago Arnott’s changed all the Shapes recipes, and everywhere exploded. The reason, you see, was that the new ones were not very nice. The Arnott’s social media team battled manfully on for ages; trying to tell everyone that it was all OK and the new ones were nice really, but in the end all the old flavours were brought back.

So now, when I go into the supermarket, there are acres of Shapes, all of which proudly sport the ‘Original’ tag. The new flavours are nowhere to be seen. Are they even still in production, I wonder? Are Arnott’s now selling more shapes than they were before? And was the whole thing a Machiavellian plot? This is the stuff that keeps me up at night.

But wait, what’s that on the bottom shelf? A lonely pack of New Shapes, with ‘baked in flavour’. It seems Nacho Cheese has survived; a relic of  this ill-thought our experiment. There never was a Nacho Cheese flavour in the old range, so it seems this new one has somehow survived. So I bought some.

So what are they like? Well, they are quite nice and crispy, with plenty of flavour. It’s sort of cheesy tomato flavour; the box mentions ‘Mexican spices’, but to be honest it’s more Bega Tasty with Masterfoods tomato sauce than Manzanillo. They do the job that is required if them – to be a sort of slightly artificial-tasting savoury snack that you can mindlessly eat when doing something else – maybe watching the sport, yakking at a party or even writing a blog. (Yep, I’ve pretty much finished the box already, having opened it just prior to writing the opening words above). I’m going to give them a five out of ten, with a bonus point for being a survivor.

 

TheOtherDimension jersey

May 2, 2018 at 15:35 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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You’d think, as a successful blogger and cycling activiste, I would be showered with freebies and samples of all sorts of things from companies eager to see their products tried and reviewed on these august pages.

Well, you’d be wrong. I’ve never got so much as a pot of chamois cream (or custard creams, for that matter). Now, I realise that, in general, in order to get such goodies you have to have a blog that people actually read. And it probably helps if you’re not a nutter who keeps going off about helmets, and seems to end up in court rather regularly. But still. Come on, people.

Anyway, there other day I did get a genuine freebie, courtesy of my friend Andrew. Unlike me, he is talented, and is one of the owners of the chic design agency ‘TheOtherDimension‘. They design all sorts of things, from logos to widgets. (And I note in a nice synergy they have invented things for Arnott’s. I wonder if they get free custard creams?)

Andrew is a cyclist, and was frustrated that he couldn’t find a cycling jersey that had the commuter features he wanted but which didn’t look like something you’d wear to a night roadworks party. So he brought his considerable design talents to bear, and created one.

He was kind enough to send me one, and I have to say it is terrific. Apparently it has all these clever features (like hi-viz exactly and only where it needs to be for maximum effect, high-tec reflecto fabric stuff and infinitely large back pockets), but I just like it because it’s super comfy and looks great.

I have no idea if you can buy them. If you can, I suggest you do. But if not, ha ha. You see, that’s the kind of exclusive-blogger-lifestyle that I now lead, with my super-exclusive bespoke jersey. Oh yeah.

Quark’s Academy- Catherine Pelosi

April 28, 2018 at 21:30 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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The last time I reviewed a childrens’ book was I think in 2010, when my eldest daughter was just a few months old. My, how time flies. She’s now devouring books on her own at a prodigious rate – perhaps I should get her to review them on this blog, as it would dramatically increase my post count. She probably reads nine or ten books in the time it takes me to read one.

As a holiday activity, she went to a kids writing workshop at the rather marvellous Better Read Than Dead Bookstore in Newtown, which was in part run by Catherine Pelosi. In preparation, she read Quark’s Academy, a junior fiction book about a strange science academy that takes talented children scientists and supposedly helps then to perfect their inventions as part of a fantastic competition. After she’d finished it, I read it too.

From the beginning the Academy is a rather sinister place, and the three main protagonists – Augustine, Celeste and Oscar – gradually overcome their suspicion of each other and end up working as a team to uncover the horrific secrets of what really happens in all the strange laboratories.

The story is a madcap mix of crazy inventions, clones, robotic animals and time travel and it all reaches a huge finale, which, to be honest, didn’t really make much sense but was fun nonetheless. I really liked that two of the main characters were female and science-y – gender stereotyping in children’s literature is really a thing, so it’s refreshing to find a book without it.

The elder junior chillikebab loved it, and especially liked the twist at the end where it turned out that…….

But that would spoil the surprise. The workshop was great too, and now she has her copy of the book signed by Catherine Pelosi, she’s doubly happy.

 

Arnott’s Jatz Cracked Pepper

April 13, 2018 at 14:01 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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What is it with snooty Italian waiters and pepper grinders? You know, when you go to a trying-to-be-upmarket restaurant, and you want some cracked pepper on your pasta. So you ask for some, and the waiter disapprovingly comes over with a huge wooden grinder (surely he’s compensating for something?). You smile weakly, and gesture at your plate. Whereupon he gives a cursory twist of the top, leaving a  homeopathic quantity of pepper on your dinner. Forcing a smile, you ask for more, and another half turn is grudgingly given, before the pepper is whisked away, never to be seen again.

The whole charade drives me nuts, which is why I take my own pepper grinder out to dinner with me. I furtively pull it from my pocket to administer a heavy dusting when required. I guess it could also come in handy if I were to be mugged, sort of as a middle class pepper spray. I’d just grind it into the muggers face.  Although muggers in the Inner West of Sydney would probably complain it’s not single-origin tellicherry.

Anyway, I’m glad to say that Arnott’s have not been measly with the pepper in the Jatz cracked pepper. It has a good peppery flavour, and goes well with rounded cheeses, or indeed as a snack on their own. Indeed, the only criticism (which is not really a criticism per se) is that they make a less good snack than the original Jatz simply because the pepper becomes a bit overwhelming by the time you reach the fifteenth biscuit or so.

One interesting aside – those black bits you can see aren’t peppercorns. They are poppy seeds. I’m going to give them an eight out of ten. Very tasty.

 

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