Arnott’s Iced Vovo Sponge Cake

May 14, 2019 at 10:58 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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OK, I’m sorry. This is definitely not a biscuit. (Or a book, or a bicycle, for that matter). It’s a cake. A cake made by Arnott’s and ‘inspired’ by the Iced VoVo. Who knew Arnott’s made cakes? Well, actually I’ve known it for a while, as you can see from the best before date on the packet in the picture. But I only just remembered about it.

I’m not sure what I think about this, to be honest. Mrs Chillikebab did once make a very large Iced VoVo cake for a friend’s birthday; however the power of the google does not extend to me finding a picture of it (although it did unearth pretty much every birthday cake I have ever made for the kids’ birthdays.)

These cakes are a sweet as you would expect a shop-bought cake to be, and don’t look as appetising in real life as on the picture. Biscuits are one thing, but if you want a cake, then I recommend you make one. They are really not hard. You will make a better cake than these.

I’m going to give them a 2 out of 10.

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New route to work

May 7, 2019 at 15:27 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I have found a new route to work. After nearly being crushed, and then running the gamut of dangerous drivers, I realised that a new parallel route had opened up which means I can completely skip that horrible DFO roundabout, and have a lovely off-road cruise.

It’s because of the Opal tower – yes, that one, the one that is falling down (but which has a bike shop at the bottom, so can’t be all bad). Well, when they built that, they also built a new pedestrian bridge over the road, which now means the path along the canal from Strathfield links up properly with Olympic Park. Previously you got close to where you wanted to go, and then the path sort of veered madly to the left and went off into the wilderness.

This means that a bit more than half of my ride to work is now on lovely off-road paths, through the trees and along the canal. I can hear the birds tweeting, enjoy the swish of my tyres on the path and generally enjoy a stress-free ride.

If all riding was like this, just think how any people would do it!

Red lights

May 1, 2019 at 09:50 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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You may remember this incident, when my bicycle was eaten by an SUV on my way home. Well, since that happened I’ve been avoiding that roundabout by using the footpath, which is designated as a shared path. It’s not ideal, as it’s a bit narrow and bumpy in places, but it’s better than getting squashed.

Or is it? To go around it you have to navigate two pedestrian crossings at the entrance and exit to the roundabout. They are a bit strange, as they do not have a green light – just the amber and red ones. I presume this is in case dumb motorists think the green light is for them to barrel on to the roundabout, not just for the crossing set back ten metres or so from the roundabout.

That said, there are very large signs telling motorists they are approaching pedestrian actuated signals, and even a flashing orange beacon to alert them on approach if they are about to turn red – the flashing lights remain in place until they go off (as there is no green, they just go blank when the crossing phase is finished).

Whether due to this unconventional arrangement or just because drivers are dumb, clueless and absolutely appalling at actually looking where they are going, no-one stops for these red lights.

That probably sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Most days, several cars just drive straight over them, right in the middle of the red phase when the green man is showing. It is both startling and alarming.

I’ve been recording some of this on Twitter for a while:

You get the idea. And just in case you thought my ‘most days’ was exaggerating, check the dates on those tweets. There is heaps more on my Twitter feed too.

So what do the local police do?

Pull me over to talk about helmets. Thanks for keeping us safe, @NSWPolice.

Arnott’s Choc Malt and Sticky Caramel Tim Tam Slam

April 23, 2019 at 08:57 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim tam slam 3 packWell, here we go with the final installment of out Tim Tam Slam reviews, with the last one in the range. (You can read the others here and here, including a description of how to perform a Tim Tam Slam).

It’s probably worth noting at this point that this whole range as just half a star health rating. This whole health rating system is of course a complete nonsense, but it’s nice to see that something unashamedly bad for you rated so low. This way you know it’s going to be good.

tim tam slam 3 biscuitAnd these ones are good. They are the best of the bunch. Rich and malty, with a smooth caramel. It’s a bit like Milo in a bar – but better. Again, I’m not sure the Slamming aspect is particularly enhanced, but good on Arnott’s for celebrating this more Australian of rituals in this new range.

I’m going to give these ones an eight out of ten. Arnott’s seem to be on a roll at the moment. Keep up the good work, guys…

Drivers, parking and entitlement

April 17, 2019 at 08:28 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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Drivers are, of course, the most entitled class of road users out there. Like the bullies they are, they shout and scream about others not ‘paying their way’ and ‘causing danger’, ignoring the massive costs we are all forced to pay to support their choices – the dollar cost of the roads they drive on, the environmental costs of the fuel they burn and the ultimate cost of the human lives they destroy – thousands of people killed every year in Australia by dangerous and negligent drivers.

Cars bring out the worst in us. I drive sometimes; we have a family car. And I have to work hard to resist its insidious effects. Cut off from those around you, isolated from society and from the consequences of your choices we all too easily become selfish and thoughtless.

There are so many examples of this selfish behaviour we have for the most part stopped noticing it – we accept the dominance of the motor car on our lives without a second thought.

But having recently come across a series of examples of swingeing entitlement in action, I was moved to write about it. And it is parking. Specifically, parking on areas of public land reserved for pedestrians (and sometimes cyclists).

Take this spot, for example:

This spot is directly in front of a car park. It is alongside a parking lane on the road. There is always parking available within 200m of this spot. Always. Yet it seems completely blocking this SUP is considered perfectly OK by a range of drivers.

Here’s another common example:

car4

A car that could easily and legally fit in the parking lane (let’s not get into the fact that this is also a bike lane, but one that allows parking) instead is driven up onto an already narrow pavement, pretty much blocking it.

truck

Yes, workmen have to get to their worksite, but absolutely and completely blocking a path, forcing path users into a road when it would be perfectly possible to park in the traffic lane?

I don’t know what the solution is to this type of behaviour. It is so ingrained that we have almost stopped noticing it. Perhaps we could phase out cars, say in the next ten years? Maybe then we could regain our humanity and compassion.

 

Lime e-bike share

April 8, 2019 at 18:28 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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Dockless bike share it seemed was dead in Sydney. Whilst several systems launched with some fanfare, they ultimately all failed; as I wrote back in late 2017 when they launched:

To my mind the environment is against them – a government generally hostile to cycling, apathy on the part of the public and helmet laws could well end up making them nonviable.

lime bike

Pretty much every part of that prediction came to pass. Bikes were vandalised, had the helmets stolen and were dumped, local councils passed regulations that imposed massive fines on the operators and the police kept us all safe with endless helmet crackdowns. I could feel smug about the accuracy of this prediction, but to be honest to bet against any kind of bicycle advancement in Sydney is a very very safe bet.

Notwithstanding all these failures (four systems have completely gone; one limps on with a smattering of bikes and almost no investment or support), another system has sprung up – this time not with low-cost utility bikes, but with more sophisticated e-bikes.

And so, I took one for a ride to test it out.

The first impression were very favourable. These bikes are very comfortable. They are actually large enough to ride properly – the other systems, even the better ones, always felt a bit small for me (and I’m not especially tall). I could get the seat right where I wanted it, and sit very comfortably.

The electric assist is not as refined as on Mrs Chillikebab’s e-bike, but certainly has some grunt. It tends to pull a bit too hard when you start pedaling, and the power seems to fade as you get up even a small amount of speed (but still below the 25kph limit for e-bike assist), but at low speeds it can really haul you up a hill with ease.

motoeThere are no gears, but with the motor this is less of an issue. The app is easy to use, although there is no trial period (perhaps not surprising, given the expense of the bikes). There is a geo-fence, which once again is not well signaled in the app. I have seen quite a few Lime bikes outside of this area, so I’m not quite sure what happens if you go outside. But inside the area there is, for now at least, plenty of them around.

How they keep them charged I don’t know; there must be quite a support system behind them. They are a bit more pricey than the other systems (a short ride will cost $3-5, vs the $1-2 for the non electric systems), but to my mind it is worth it – cheaper than the bus, comfortable and you don’t even work up a sweat.

I’ll ride them some more and give some more impressions in due course, but for now I am a fan. It is the best bike share to have come to Sydney. I just hope it can survive the hostile environment…

 

Arnott’s Dark Choc and Sticky Raspberry Tim Tam Slam

April 1, 2019 at 16:58 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim tam slam cherry biscuitSo today, we move on to the next in the Tim Tam Slam range – Dark Choc and Sticky Raspberry Flavour. They are certainly going to town with the long names for this range – it causes all kinds of problems with the page title going onto two lines. I must remind Arnott’s to avoid this in future.

If you don’t know what a Tim Tam Slam is, then you should read my post about the Choc Hazelnut and Gooey Caramel Flavour. I’m not going to repeat it here. Hopefully since them you have been practicing, and can undertake The Slam with aplomb.

tim tam cherryI was immediately hopeful about this flavour. Dark Chocolate is always a cut above milk, in my humble opinion. But then I was also somewhat suspicious about the ‘Choc’. ‘Choc’ can mean some sort of fake chocolate, rather than the normal high quality chocolate that Arnott’s for the most part use (with the execrable Tim Tam White being the dishonourable exception). Thankfully here real chocolate is in evidence; I presume that with the already inflated character count in the name there really wasn’t room on the pack for ‘Chocolate’.

Once again, I didn’t feel these slammed any differently or better than regular Tim Tams, but they were actually quite nice. Bit of a tang to the raspberry, nice rich chocolate. I also quite liked the dual-textured filling – the raspberry creme contrasted with the softer jam.

These are pretty good. I’m going to give them a seven out of ten. Just one more flavour to go – will it continue to improve, I wonder?

Arnott’s Choc Hazelnut and Gooey Caramel Tim Tam Slam

March 26, 2019 at 14:27 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim tam slam packThere are new Tim Tams from Arnotts! How exciting. They are a new rage specifically designed for ‘slamming’.

What is the Tim Tam Slam, I hear you ask? Well, let me explain the correct way to do it. (And this is the correct way, by the way. If you read, see or hear differently then you should take it upon yourself to correct any misapprehensions).

First, you bite off the two ends of the biscuit, taking off as little biscuit as possible to expose the biscuit and filling at each end. (Not the corners, not just the chocolate. You need to take off 1-2mm of biscuit from each of the shorter sides).

Next, take a hot cup or tea or coffee (it doesn’t matter which; this is according to taste, although hot chocolate or Milo are frowned upon). Dip one end of the Tim Tam a few millimetres into the hot beverage, and place the other end between the lips, leaving the beverage on the table (so you are bending down over the cup). Quickly suck up the hot liquid, using the Tim Tam as the straw.

As soon as you feel the hot liquid reach the top of the biscuit (and you need to move fast here), grip the biscuit between your lips and / or teeth, and raise your head. Continue putting your head back, until the biscuit is pointing at the ceiling. You should not be holding it with your fingers at this point.

Now, using your tongue, allow the biscuit to slowly slide into your mouth. The effect for the viewer should be that it slowly disappears from view, sinking into your head like a sinking thing.

Close your mouth, put your head to a normal position and finish chewing the biscuit, enjoying the hot, softened confection. It is best to transfix your audience with a wild stare at this point, before breaking into a satisfied smile as you finish your Tim Tam. (The absolute master of this art, and the person I learned from, is my mate Ian. He elevates Tim Tam Slamming into an art form. Next time I’m up in QLD I’ll get him to demonstrate in a video).

tim tam slam biscuitAnyway, it seems that Arnott’s are celebrating this ritual by creating a range if Tim Tams optimised for slamming. There are three in the range, and the first one we will be looking at is the Choc Hazelnut and Gooey Caramel Flavour (which also wins a prize for the longest name for a biscuit ever).

Arnott’s seem to have attempted to engineer these biscuits with a softer strip of filing up the middle that works as a ‘straw’, with regular creme filling either side. Whilst they slammed quite satisfactorily, to be honest they were no more effective at this than a regular Tim Tam.

The flavour, though, is not quite there. It’s a bit sweet; the hazelnut is fighting with the caramel and it somehow doesn’t quite work all together. It’s not a bad Tim Tam, but not a classic. I’m going to give it a five out of ten. Perhaps the others in the range will be better?

Antifa : The Anti-Fascist Handbook – Mark Bray

March 20, 2019 at 13:29 | Posted in books | Leave a comment

antifaThis is an important book. It is an impressive and comprehensive history of the anti-fascist movement, from its roots in the resistance to Hitler and Mussolini through to current day activism against the alt-right.

It’s a long, sometimes dense and detailed book which is not always easy to read, but it is worth it. Rather than a retailed review, I will share two startling lessons which came from it for me.

The first is the importance of denying the far-right a platform. There is currently endless debate about the rights to free speech, and how ‘de-platforming’ should not be tolerated. This book offers a much-needed perspective on this issue. What is absolutely clear, throughout history, is that far-right movements have faded when they have not had easy access to the public. Debating fascists does not work, and never has worked. It merely gives them oxygen. It’s also important to realise that for the owner of a hall or institution to deny fascists the use of their facilities to hold a meeting or rally is not denying their free speech. For a noisy counter-protest to drown out far-right voices in the street is not denying their free speech. For an internet platform to ban fascist individuals from their services is not denying their free speech. They are free to speak, to organise, to set up their own institutions, buildings, platforms and publications. But history shows when they have to do this using only their own resources, rather than subverting more liberal institutions to promote their cause, they wither.

We have no problem telling our children that certain things should not be said or done; that it is wrong do things that are mean or to hurt people people or to say things which are untrue. We do not debate our children on these topics, we simply tell them that it is not acceptable, and prevent them from doing it. We should have no hesitation or qualms about doing the same for fascist and far-right voices, and refuse to get drawn into a manipulative argument about ‘free speech’.

The second is related to the first, and is the important of direct action. Organising, marching, campaigning, shouting and physically restricting have always been important tools in the fight against fascism. This does not need to mean violence (although this book reveals an uncomfortable truth, and that is that violent protest has protected our societies from fascism on many occasions), but does mean confrontation. As an example, an annual (and growing) far right rally in Germany was in recent years disrupted and destroyed simply by concerned citizens campaigning directly against it – blocking access to railways stations when trains of fascists arrived, holding counter-marches in the same streets, chanting loudly when fascists tried to speak, forcefully engaging individuals in the fascist groups and telling them they were not welcome, that their ideas were unacceptable and that they should leave immediately. Within two years, the largest far-right rally in Germany was abandoned by its neo-nazi organisers as support for it withered away.

We live in a world where fascism is on the rise. Far-right propaganda is now piped into our homes from mainstream media outlets and politicians. This scourge can be defeated. It has been before. But we will not do so with debate and liberal engagement. Fascist hate can only be shut down with concentrated and direct effort.

This book at the end has a section of ideas and practical tips for disrupting fascist networks. Some require a lot of courage and time. Others you can do by writing letters.

Read this book. Then join the fight.

It died. It lives! It died again…

March 15, 2019 at 10:15 | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

fly6For quite some time I have had a Cycliq Fly6 camera on the back of my bike. Lots of fun, and capable of capturing what is sometimes quite dramatic footage. The camera is now about four years old, and the battery life had gradually been getting less and less as the internal rechargeable battery degraded.

Then one day I went for a longer ride than usual, and the battery depleted totally. Given that it was already degraded, it seems the function that switches off the camera when the battery is low did not work as expected, and the battery underwent a deep discharge. And from that moment, it would not hold a charge – at best it would work for perhaps ten minutes.

This is both to be expected and frustrating. Rechargeable batteries do have a limited life, especially one on the back of a bicycle that is exposed to extremes of temperature, being left out in the sun as well as frozen in winter. So it is to be expected that it would need replacing.

However, the battery in the Fly6 is not user replaceable. And Cycliq do not offer a battery replacement service. So it seemed my $250 camera was now useless. This is frustrating.

Or was it? One of my cycling contacts (aka BikeBot) has actually managed to successfully replace the battery in his Fly6 several times, and helpfully has written some very clear instructions. So I bought the bits I needed from Jaycar for about $20, and set to work.

It was quite fiddly. The hardest part is the ‘wire glue’. Here’s a thing about wire glue. It isn’t. When it dries it holds the wires, but before then it has absolutely no stickiness whatsoever. It’s like trying to glue things with graphite paste. I got it everywhere. All over the battery, the table, the ceiling and myself. If you attempt this yourself, think about some kind of jig to hold the contacts to the battery whilst you are gluing it. Or better, find a qualified solderist who can solder the terminals to the battery. (And here I reinforce the warning on BikeBot’s instructions – DO NOT solder directly to a Li-Ion battery unless you have the right equipment and know what you are doing.)

Once I had finally done it all, I left the glue to cure for a day. And then I tried to charge it up. It was alive! It charged up nicely, bleeped as expected and came on, happily recording video for an hour or so before I switched it off, to hear three bleeps indicating the battery was still quite full. I was very pleased with myself. I had resurrected it!

Now the hard part – I had to put it all back in the case; the above test was done with it still in pieces. So I set about packing it all back into the case. It was all going well until the last PCB screw; the board was a bit high so I pressed it down against the battery to get it into place.

And there was a kind of very quiet ‘phut’ sound, and the camera went off (it had come on from me pressing the buttons whilst re-assembling it). There was also a very faint smell of hot electronics. Oooops.

It seems what had happened is that I had not quite lined up the battery, and the small battery protection circuit on the contact strip was over to one side. This was then directly underneath the protruding metal of the switch on the PCB. Pushing it down had caused the metal of the switch to pierce the insulating tape I had put around the battery, and either shorted out or damaged a component on the battery protect circuit.

And so it was dead. Properly, finally dead.

Oh well. At least I tried. And hopefully someone else reading this who tries the same thing will now not make the mistake I made.

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