Arnott’s Shapes – Cheddar

September 1, 2015 at 17:28 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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arnotts shapes cheddar boxIt’s been a while since we had a savoury biscuit review, so when a packet of Cheddar Shapes happened into the Chillikebab kitchen I thought it might be worth a look at.

They are small, rectangle biscuits, quite crunchy, sprinkled with cheesy flavour.

Hmm, not sure there’s much more to say really. So instead, let me draw your attention to another cheesy change. I still eat a lot of Cheds, and back in 2012 when i reviewed them, the pack clearly stated ‘a crisp cracker with a baked on cheddar cheese flavour

arnotts shapes cheddar biscuitAt some point, however, that changed, and it now reads ‘a delicious real cheddar cracker, sprinkled with pecorino cheese and oven baked until crisp’. Pecorino cheese, eh? Now, I eat a lot of these biscuits, and I’m pretty confident that the recipe hasn’t changed. Was there always pecorino cheese in there? Did someone just realise, and decide the sex up the marketing? The ingredients just say ‘cheese (16%)‘. Which, I have to say, is a pretty good percentage. Cheddar Shapes can only muster up 14%. Although how much of that is actually cheddar is open to conjecture.

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

Spreading the Arnott’s love around the world…

August 27, 2015 at 20:16 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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twitter arnotts message‘A rather unreasonable plan’. This was how my correspondent on Twitter put it.

Not that I get a great deal of correspondence on the twitter. I suppose the three real people and the twenty spambots who follow me love to get notified that yet more random musings on the world of Australian biscuits are available for their reading pleasure, but for the most part I rarely think about it.

Until someone contacted me, having read my blog, asking for help. To be honest, I was so excited to hear that someone actually read my blog, I was immediately minded to help. And as it happens, the problem was a real one.

It was all to do with Lemon Crisps. That oh-so-moreish biscuit. Apparently, you can’t get them in Germany. This I can imagine would be a problem – especially if you have developed a full-blown addiction to them whilst visiting Australia.

Well, of course I had to help. Us Lemon-Crisp-addicts have to stick together. So I put together a small emergency pack of them, together with a few other choice varieties (choosing the most addictive ones. Oh, yes, really I am just an evil pusher..) and send them over to Germany.

The result, as you can imagine, was a great deal of consternation. When an unlabeled parcel arrives full of highly addictive substances, one is bound to be a bit suspicious. However, I understand that it took only a few minutes for the suspicion to be replaced by delight as the packets were torn open to reveal their sweet delights.

facebook arnotts world

So there we go. Spreading the Arnott’s love around the world. Perhaps I should start an export business?

 

 

Fly6 rear bike camera review

August 21, 2015 at 16:17 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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fly6boxAs will have been apparent to regular readers, a little while ago I kitted myself out with a rear-facing camera – the Fly6.

This has already been the subject of numerous reviews – not I’m not going to let that stop me offering my own opinions! What attracted me to it was that is is uncompromisingly designed for cycling – this is not an ‘action camera’ that also works for cycling, but was designed from the ground up for putting on the back of a bike.

To that end, it has an integrated rear light (with the usual flashing and steady modes), the necessary fixings for a seatpost and is waterproof. This last point is crucial – a fair weather camera is no good to me, and given it’s position above the rear wheel it’s going to get pretty drenched in the rain.

The other thing I liked about it is that is records video on a loop, automatically deleting the oldest footage once the memory card is full. This means you never have to worry about having to delete old files, or it stopping recording because the memory is full. As far as I know this is the only such camera that has this small but exceptionally useful feature. It records in 10 minute segments, each recorded as a different file, which does mean if you want to make an epic movie of your ride you will need to stitch them all back together in a video editor. It also means it’s much easier to locate the footage of a particular bit of your ride, and the file sizes remain manageable, which I think is on balance more helpful.

It has a an integrated rechargeable battery that is good for about 5 hours of recording, and good for several more hours of just lights after that – claims that seems about right from my general use. Hence you don’t need to be recharging it too often – twice a week is fine for me. The various bleeps and flashes when you turn it on tell you the current battery level, and are clear and easy to understand. Once the battery is getting low the recording stops, but the light remains working for several hours – another bonus, and much better than my other rechargeable lights, which have a habit of dying mid-ride.

It comes packed in a lovely box with every accessory you could imagine – shims for different seatpost angles and also for aero posts (for those hardcore time triallers out there). There are two clips, so you can have a clip on a couple of bikes, a charging / data cable and a 2GB memory card (enough for about 1.5 hours of recording). There are also a bunch of stickers, and a small manual to get started (the full manual is available as an online download).

fly6 cameraThe video quality is I think good. It’s up there with the lower-end action cameras  – it records at 720P, which for some purists is not good enough, but it’s plenty OK for most purposes. Details are crisp, number plates are easy to read. You can see some footage here, but there’s plenty more around on the web. In the dark obviously things are a bit less successful, but by no means useless; on a street with good streetlighting you can still make out most of the details. If it is very dark, then things do just become a blur of points of light, but I guess for a sub-$200 camera that’s asking a lot. The sound is OK – it’s never going to be that good on such a small device, but it is better that I expected, without too much wind noise. It will pick up intelligible speech in the vicinity, providing there isn’t any background noise – so essentially sound recording works if you are stopped (if you are moving, then it’s unlikely you’ll hear anything over the wind / tyre / traffic noise).

Since I’ve had it, I’ve used the footage once to go to the cops to report someone for poor driving, and taken many many hours of entirely boring footage of me cycling to work. It’s been drenched by heavy rain, with no problems at all, and the battery life holds up well.

fly6 on bikeSo it everything unrelentingly positive, then? Well, there are a few niggles. The clip design is not the best. As I mentioned, it comes with two clips. I mounted it into one of the clips to fit to the bike – and it was immediately clear that it is very unwilling to come out of that clip. I’ve been at it with some tools, lubricated it with oil, hauled at it – but it took a lot of effort to get it out. (top tip – do it with the clip mounted on the bike). It’s also impossible to get out without some sort of tool such as a small screwdriver (or the tip of a key), as you can’t push back the tab on the clip with your finger whilst pulling the unit out of the clip. All this means that half the time I just use the rubber straps to take it on and off (which is easy to do in any case), but it does mean the little rubber shim can get lost (if has a sticky pad to hold it to the clip, but repeated taking it on and off loosens this quite quickly).

I also had a bunch of problems connecting it to my PC. When I got it, I connected it, and it appeared as a drive, and I was able to set the time and date and so on. But then, a few days later, it stopped connecting. My PC then started reporting ‘USB driver failed to load’ when I plugged it in. I tried it on several PCs, and got the same result each time. Reading the Fly6 forums, this is not an uncommon issue.  Since then I have upgraded the firmware on the device (which entailed using a different PC it apparently would connect to) which seems to have helped, as it now connects to my home PC. My work PC still won’t connect though (although it did once, but never again, so I don’t think it’s a permissions thing). Not a major drama as I can just remove the memory card to get the footage, but it’s a bit frustrating.

Those gripes notwithstanding, I am very happy with my purchase. It does what I need it to to do with a minimum of fuss, is low-profile and discreet and is easy to use.

Apparently there is a Fly12 front camera in the offing. Something to consider….!

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

August 15, 2015 at 16:19 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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It’s always a pleasure to open a nmcewan children actew book by Ian McEwan. Familiar as an old pair of jeans, yet always fresh and new. From the moment you sink into the luminous prose to the point when you emerge, blinking, from the fine textured world McEwan conjures, you are swept along by the sheer technical mastery of the medium. McEwan is truly a great author, a master of his craft.

And yet, and yet, something niggled with me slightly about this novel. Not that it wasn’t executed with the customary brilliance. Not that the plot wasn’t intriguing and though-provoking, and the characters fully rounded and believable. No, somehow, there was this niggle in my mind that it was somewhat formulaic. A really good novel, yes, but ‘just another Ian McEwan’, rather than some new statement. It sounds almost sacrilegious to say it, but I was strangely reminded of  Dick Francis’ novels – basically all the same story, but made (somewhat) interesting by the illuminating background research into whatever the protagonist happened to be – a photographer, a wine merchant, a computer teacher etc etc.

In ‘The Children Act’, the main character is a family court judge, and the book revolves around both her troubled marriage and her caseload, most particularly Adam, an intense teenager who wishes to refuse lift-saving treatment for religious reasons.

And, à la Francis, we also get quite significant discourses on the processes and ethics of the family court system in England, coupled with expositions on the religious mores of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This is a much, much better novel than an airport thriller. But somehow, for me, the assemblage of raw materials failed to gel into a great book.

Arnott’s Letter Jumbles

August 9, 2015 at 18:53 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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letter jumbles packWell, that was a surprise. I opened the kitchen cupboard to find something for the kids to eat, and discovered a new and hitherto unknown Arnott’s biscuit.

Like that other scholarly biscuit in the Arnott’s range, these are evidently designed to assuage parental guilt about sugary kids snacks. Hey, they’re educational!

They are also exclusive to Woolworths, I note. It seems this is a growing trend. I hope Arnott’s also make some biscuits ‘exclusive to small corner shops‘ and the like, rather than just our grocery behemoths. I think that would be nice.

So what are Letter Jumbles? Well, they are small biscuits with letters on. They are actually tiny Milk Arrowroot, and seem to be exactly the same recipe as their larger brethren. As well as being smaller, though, they are also a little bit thinner, which yields a slightly crunchier texture.

letter jumbles biscuitsI opened just one small packet for the junior Chillikebab’s to share, and it contained eight biscuits. Thankfully, it contained an ‘E’ and an “B’, so both the little darlings were both able to have the first letter from their name. I assume all the letters are equally represented, although this would take some significant research to verify.

All in all not bad, but all that packaging for so few biscuits seems a bit over the top. Why can’t parents just buy a regular pack of Milk Arrowroots, and put one or two of them into a kids lunchbox, perhaps wrapped in a little twist of  greaseproof paper? And for that matter, why don’t we still wear flat caps, and why do school children have to wear shoes, and why aren’t kids allowed to clean chimneys any more, at least on the weekends?

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

 

Tim Tam Three Bean

August 2, 2015 at 14:36 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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timtam3beanpackGoodness. Another new Tim Tam. They really are churning them out. But is it all quantity at the expense of quality?

The latest incarnation is ‘Three Bean’ – the three beans in question being vanilla, cocoa and coffee. Some years ago I used to drink coffee with a friend in a cafe called ‘Three Beans’. Rather good coffee it was too, and many a worlds wrong we set to rights over a short black.

Would this new range (exclusive to Woolworths, it appears), live up to those memories? Or is this going to be another Peanut Butter debacle?

A few years ago, I’d have been pretty prejudiced from the start. I never used to like the whole coffee / chocolate combo thing, but I have to say as I get older and mellower it is growing on me. I have become rather fond of those chocolate-covered coffee beans you can buy – or at last I was, until I found that after eating a handful of them (well, several handfuls really), I was unable to sleep for about a week. I am rather sensitive to caffeine, you see, but it never occurred to me that eating whole coffee beans was really just one massive stimulant boost.

timtam3beanbiscuitSo how does the Tim Tam Three Bean fare? Well, actually I thought it was rather good. Coffee taste was rich and authentic, the vanilla added a nice sweetness and the chocolate finished it off nicely. I ate rather a lot of these in one sitting quite late at night – and then wondered if I would be unable to sleep. Luckily I didn’t experience any insomnia, so the caffeine content I guess must be quite low.

I’m going to give these a solid seven out of ten, but it’s probably worth mentioning that they were not a 100% hit around the office – some people were not so keen, so caveat emptor and all that.

 

College St Cycleway – RIP

July 26, 2015 at 10:50 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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college stI don’t normally have reason to ride through the eastern part of the CBD, but the other day I did need to, to get out to an exhibition in Moore Park. I sort of followed my nose, and by happy chance found myself on the College Street Cycleway.
I bowled along merrily, enjoying the respite from the city traffic. My otherwise happy mood was somewhat darkened by my reflections on the future for that particular cycleway.

Successful though it is, carrying thousands of cyclists a day (far more people than are carried by the adjacent traffic lane) today is the day it starts to be ripped up, sacrificed to the motordom-worshiping ideology of the NSW state government.

Even before the current government took power, the now roads minister, Duncan Gay, was pretty forthright on his views on bicycles. Basically, he sees them as toys, a nuisance, something that gets in the way of ‘proper’ traffic. He’s also fairly soft on public transport. No, the proper role for his department, and vision for the metropolis of Sydney, is to squeeze as many private cars into it as possible, to the detriment of everyone else who is merely ‘getting in the way’. The solutions he has come up with for this are various, but include narrowing already crowded footpaths, banning car share spaces, building eye-wateringly expensive motorways that terminate at some of Sydney’s most choked streets, forcing cyclists to register and, of course, ripping out cycleways.

Oblivious to the international consensus on urban planning that transcends political boundaries and sees cities such as London, New York, Seoul, Paris and Montreal embrace enhanced access for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, Duncan Gay bowls on relentlessly, throwing out one-lines about ‘latte-sipping chattering classes‘ whenever he is challenged.

It’s enough to make you weep. And get angry. Still, for today at least, you can feel better by going for a nice calming ride along College Street, admiring the views of the park and the cathedral. Enjoy it while you can.

 

Tailgating motorist

July 20, 2015 at 22:32 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Almost a year to the day since this incident, I today experienced another rather unpleasant situation on the roads. I wasn’t hit, but was somewhat spooked. I was riding up Burns Bay Road this morning – traffic was moderate, although had bunched up a bit around me because of a red traffic light half-way up the hill.

video

Then I heard a car behind me start on the horn. Then it got closer and closer. And sounded the horn again. And then got really close, the driver gesticulating for me to move over.

Move over to where, I’m not exactly sure, as there was no way she was going to get past without going into the other lane. More the the point, I wasn’t going to head into the gutter so she could try and squeeze by anyway.

It’s a little hard to judge, but I reckon she was around 50cm off my back wheel at the closest. I could hear the engine right behind me, and honestly thought at one point she was going to clip my back wheel. Which, of course, would not have been pleasant. As in ‘serious injury’ not pleasant.

Once she finally got past (having been behind me for all of twenty seconds – apparently my safety is less important than those 20 seconds of here oh-so-valuable life), she called out through the window:

           ‘Move over. You’re going to get killed!’.

The irony of this statement is, of course, stark. I laughed out loud at this, in part from relief that she was no longer behind me, but also as I thought of what she actually meant:

           ‘I’m a bad driver. I might kill you!’

As the eagle eyed of you will have spotted, I do have footage of this incident. Yes, I have joined the legion of cam-toting cyclists, and not that long after the last incident equipped myself with a rear-facing camera – a Cycliq Fly6. I will do a review of it in due course – I’d meant to do it a while back, but not got around to it.

After reviewing the footage once I got to work, I took myself off to the local police station to report the incident. As I could see it, there were three possible offenses being committed – driving too close to the vehicle in front, incorrect use of the horn and aggressive driving.

I showed the footage to the Constable on duty, and whilst sympathetic and interested, initially he told me there was nothing he could do. I held my ground, and asked to speak to his superior, and after some discussion it was agreed that I could make a report. The key in all of this was agreeing that I was prepared to go to court; once this was established it all became much easier.

Was there a bit of fobbing me off initially? Perhaps, but I have to say once we were over that, the police could not have been more polite and helpful. I made my statement, he took the footage, and promised to call me back with more information.

True to his word, he called me later that day. He had spoken to the motorist, who initially had been dismissive and aggressive, but once was told that there was video footage suddenly became rather more cooperative and contrite.

He had also asked the traffic division to look at the footage, to see what the best course of action would be with regards to charges. Here things were a little less successful. ‘Misuse of the horn’ was virtually impossible to get past a magistrate, in their opinion. Tailgating was a possibility, but the difficulty would be in proving just how close she got. We were travelling fairly slowly, and the prosecution would need to prove that she was so close to me that at those speeds she would have been unable to stop if needed. This they thought was tricky, as establishing exactly how close she was, and how fast I was travelling, was very hard to do from the footage – certainly it was unlikely to be solid enough to convince a magistrate (reasonable doubt and all that). Interestingly he said that had my rear wheel been in the shot, it would have helped tremendously – both to give perspective on the distance, and also to see the wheel rotation to measure speed. So there’s something to bear in mind – angling the camera down to take in the top of the rear wheel and the road behind you is a worth considering if you want the footage to stand up to court scrutiny.

He was looking into predatory driving, but this was usually reserved for more serious offenses where people were actually injured. Again, he felt this would be tricky, as I would have to have felt like I was in mortal danger. Did I feel that? Well, a bit I suppose, but certainly nothing like  I felt in the seconds before I was actually hit last time. He was still looking into this, but felt it was a long shot, and again unlikely to get up before a magistrate.

So all in all, it’s unlikely that this will go any further. But in another way, I got the result I wanted. The driver got a somewhat confronting call from the police, and had to acknowledge her driving was far from perfect. Hopefully she’ll think a little harder next time.

It was also an interesting exercise to understand how the police work on these types of matters. I felt the police were diligent and helpful, and explained to me clearly the problems they foresaw in proving the case in court – which ultimately is what dictates their actions on what, if any, charges to lay. So top marks to Constable Taylor of Chatswood Police station.

That it should be so hard to get any offense proven is I suppose an indictment of the way the system works, but also helps to clarify where the problem lies. Yes, I know some cyclists have had issues with police being uninterested in incidents of dangerous driving, but I suspect it’s actually more about the overall court system – which in turn is a reflection of our societal biases. Ultimately the police want convictions, and if the courts were more sympathetic to cyclists, the police would be putting more cases forward. That will happen as our overall society becomes more accepting of cycling as a legitimate form of transport that deserves protection against poor driving. Which will happen . . . .  eventually. Perhaps?

Anyway, here’s a few top tips if you run a camera and need to report something to the police:

  •  Angle the camera such that your wheel is visible in the shot. Helps to establish distances and speeds. Telemetry from a speed sensor is also great.
  • When you go in to make a statement, be clear that you are prepared to go to court (if course, to do actually need to be prepared to go…!)
  • When you make your statement, ensure you cover how scared / vulnerable / in danger you felt. Don’t ham it up, but don’t play it down.
  • If necessary, be somewhat persistent. But always be polite and respectful.

Rainbows of Death and blue shoes…

July 14, 2015 at 13:14 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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rainbowofdeathAfter recent heavy rains, there has been a lot of these on the roads recently – iridescent patches of oil. They are often quite pretty to look at, although of course they can be slippery. Not that I’ve really had any problems with them, but one contributor to Sydney Cyclist memorably called them ‘rainbows of death’, which is certainly poetic, if rather hyperbolic.  Every time I see one I am reminded of the phrase…

In an unconnected matter, I needed some new cleats recently, so went to my LBS to buy some. Up until now, I’ve always used the yellow ones. These are the ones that have the most ‘float’; which is to say you can blue shoeswiggle your feet around in the pedals even when clipped in. However, with my new pedals I’ve been struggling to get the cleat positioning correct such that  it’s comfortable to pedal, but I can also unclip easily. It was suggested to me that, possibly counter-intuitively, cleat placement was actually easier with cleats that have less ‘float’. So I bought some blue ones, which have a little bit of float, but not as much. And, lo and behold, it turns out to be true – they are more comfortable and also easier to get out of the pedals. Hurrah!

The Man who invented the Future – Franz Born

July 8, 2015 at 06:12 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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inventedfutureAnother holiday read plucked from the shelf of a rented holiday house. This accessible biography of Jules Verne was actually quite entertaining. He led an interesting life; initially not really sure what he should be doing so filling his time with voracious reading covering many topics of science and geography.

After some failed attempts at scientific adventures of his own (such as building a huge hot air balloon) he finally turned his hand to writing fiction, and the rest, as the say, is history.

His breadth of knowledge on all matters scientific meant that his fiction had a solid basis in real fact, and many of the fantastical machines he created in his imagination – from submarines to videoconferencing – are of course now real and everyday. (There’s an article here covering many of them). In that sense he was a true science fiction writer, constructing worlds which relied on the laws of physics, rather than the now rather more fashionable fantasy writers who rely on magic and agency.

The funny thing about this book, interesting though it was, is that it was written in the mid nineteen-sixties; a time of great technological excitement. It is sprinkled with gushing predictions, such as ‘and in a few years, when regular space traffic is established, we will see even more how Verne’s predictions were correct‘ and so forth. It seems Verne was somewhat more adept at predicting the future than his erstwhile biographer..!

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