Running Board Scars…

September 19, 2017 at 12:21 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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The new look Radish is working out well. The girls love going on it, it’s easy to ride and the running boards are not just nice for little feet to rest on – they are also useful for supporting luggage and trombones.

However, there is one problem. it is extremely easy, when pulling away or manoeuvring the bike, to catch the back of your ankles on the front edge of the board. Given the board is plywood, that edge has quite some abrasive qualities. And thus I have scars forming on my legs due to the near-constant grating. I keep thinking that I’ll get used to it, and automatically start keeping my legs clear. But it doesn’t seem to be happening – the design of the boards just protrudes into a point where your legs sometimes need to be. It’s a bit irritating (and painful), to be honest.

The running boards have actually been superseded by a lower-profile aluminium bar (called U-Tubes), which in the description notes have a ‘clipped front corner to improve foot clearance’. Perhaps I should have got those instead. Oh well, I’ll just have to suffer for my transport choices. At least for now, until I can afford to upgrade…

 

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The Mesmerist – Wendy Moore

September 10, 2017 at 12:09 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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A long while ago, I read Wendy Moore’s ‘The Knife Man’, and really enjoyed it. I didn’t review it on this blog, for some reason, but anyway, it’s a good book worth reading.

Remembering that book, I picked up Wendy Moore’s latest offering at the airport before a flight. It is a little similar – a medical history book. It tells the story of John Elliotson, a radical doctor working in London in the early Victorian era. Medicine was a pretty brutal business in the early 1800s, and Moore presents all the gore and terror very evocatively. Many medical procedures were basically useless, and there was little in the way of scientific examination or reflection about the causes and treatment of disease.

Elliotson was one of a new breed of doctors who was more scientifically minded. He was at the forefront of a number of medical breakthroughs, including the use of the stethoscope and using quinine to treat malaria. He also became very interested in ‘Mesmerism’ – better known today as hypnotism. Initially as a way of offering both pain relief in operations and also treatment for nervous conditions, although as his research progressed he become increasingly obsessed with the more fringe elements of mesmerism, such as clairvoyance.

As Elliotson become increasingly obsessive, carrying more and more outlandish demonstrations of mesmerism, the medical establishment become split about the value of mesmerism, and whether it was a genuine phenomenon or merely trickery and quackery. This triggered huge infighting and recriminations across hospitals and the newly emerging medical journals such as The Lancet.

At times the pace of this book flags – Moore sometimes spends too much time on descriptions of all the demonstrations of mesmerism, so the book reads in part more like a set of case descriptions. But mostly this is an easy  read (if not for the squeamish!), painting a vivid picture of the state of medicine at the time, and how new ideas were both embraced and rejected. This ability to make serious historical scholarship accessible and ‘novelistic’ is Wendy Moore’s great strength. A fascinating book.

Tim Tam Salted Caramel Vanilla

September 1, 2017 at 15:05 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to these. I’m not quite sure why it took so long; I think I bought some to review, and then left them at work. They then got eaten before I could try them, and I forgot to get any more. Anyway, here they are – the ‘Messina’ flavour Salted Caramel and Vanilla.

This is not the first Salted Caramel Tim Tam. And certainly not the first salted caramel biscuit from Arnott’s. So how does this incarnation stack up?

Well, the biscuit part of them is a rather strange orange colour, with a darker orange creme inside. They smell sort of cloying – so not a great start.

Unfortunately, they don’t taste great either. Very sweet, with hardly any salt, and with a distinctive cardboard taste. You know that taste you get from old ice-cream – the kind that comes in a cardboard box – when it’s been in the freezer a bit too long, and you get the bit from the last edge? Well, they taste kind of like that. Which I suppose captures the ice-cream vibe in one way, but I can’t help feeling Arnott’s were going for something a bit more classy than that.

This whole Messina thing to me has not been a huge success. I might humbly suggest it’s time for a re-think, Arnott’s? I’m going to give these three out of ten.

 

 

An open letter to Bicycle Network’s CEO Craig Richards

August 31, 2017 at 23:15 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Dear Craig,

For perhaps ten years, I have been involved in low-level cycling advocacy, predominantly in NSW. I’ve written to MPs, responded to surveys, made submissions to plans and proposals and encouraged people to ride. I’ve supported various advocacy groups, and even dabbled in political activism.

However, for most of the past ten years I have not felt that Bicycle network (formerly Bicycle Victoria) was an effective bicycle advocacy organisation, and have hesitated to support them. To me, they always seemed to be more intent on furthering the interests of a narrow segment of cyclists – the keen road cyclists – to the exclusion of others. It felt more about preserving cycling as a special club for the initiated, rather than presenting it as a casual everyday activity for everyone.

You surely have to see my perspective here. I mean – campaigning for higher fines for cyclists, campaigning against close passing laws and pressing heavy handed legal slapdowns of fellow cycling advocates just aren’t a good look.

However, today my opinion has changed somewhat. You have announced that you are undertaking a review of your policy on mandatory helmets. You are encouraging input from a wide range of stakeholders; from different perspectives and different types of cyclists – and non-cyclists too.

Of course, from a personal perspective, I hope that your review will lead to a change of policy. But whatever the outcome, I commend you for undertaking this review – which I am sure will generate significant controversy and heat. I truly hope it is the start of a new chapter for BN – a more consultative and open-minded approach to cycling advocacy that is prepared to look at the big picture, and make policy decisions based on a wide evidence base.

Because if this really is the start of a new approach to advocacy from BN, then I might be encouraged to join. Whatever the outcome of your helmet review.

 

Yours sincerely,

Chillikebab

Mini Scotch Finger

August 22, 2017 at 11:32 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Mrs Chillikebab has a work for certain things that she likes – usually small, neat, cute things. They are ‘nobby’.

‘Nobby’ is not 100% easy to define. Just being small is not enough, nor is being cute or unusual. However, nobbiness is, when attuned to it, quite easy to spot. And these biscuits are definitely nobby. Little tiny versions of Scotch Fingers, no more than a few centimetres long, embossed just like the originals.

They come in small packets for snacking. Ostensibly we bought them for the kids, but I don’t think the kids have had many – and the box is now empty…

Nicely done, Arnott’s. Nobby Scotch Fingers. I give them a nine out of ten.

 

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

August 15, 2017 at 10:24 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I picked up this book at the airport, as a fairly easy read on the plane. Jodi Picoult is of course a very well known and prolific author, although I’d not read any of her books before.

As I expected, this is a well-written, easy to read book that rattles along. The theme it tackles, however, is far from lightweight; it is an examination of racism and racial tensions in contemporary USA. Against the backdrop of racially-charged police shootings, the rise of Trump and issues around immigration and American values, this is both a necessary and brave book.

Necessary, because these issues need airing constantly, and brave, because Jodi Picoult is a privileged, affluent white person – and writing about race is a challenge to do authentically and fairly when you have no lived experience to draw on.

The story revolves around Ruth; a black neo-natal nurse who is on duty when an medical incident occurs to the newborn child of a white supremacist couple. The baby dies, and Ruth is suspended by the hospital, and charged with negligence and murder. She is defended by a public advocate, and over the course of the novel the motivations, lives and prejudices of all the characters are examined. The book ends with a climactic courtroom scene which, whilst gripping, as a rather over-the-top twist right at the end that to me felt very forced.

It’s a novel that certainly illuminates the racial divide in today’s America. Picoult did a lot of research prior to writing this book; she details much of this in an essay that appends the novel. Aware of the sensitivity of the subject, she tries to do the right thing, and also apologises for any missteps she may have made. Racism is an issue that affects all America (and perhaps the whole world), and Picoult makes the point that this is a book to get whites reading about and understanding at least some of the issues – even if her voice is not the most authentic or original. It is notable that the black characters in the novel come across as the least nuanced and most two-dimensional.

I was interested when finishing the book to read the reactions of black reviewers to the novel. For the most part they are generous and understanding – this is not a ‘black novel’, but as a book that adds to the debate and might break through to some readers who would otherwise not consider the issues raised it has been for the most part praised.

I enjoyed this book a lot; it is a rattling good yarn as well as being very thought-provoking.

Keeping us safe… (updated)

August 8, 2017 at 16:58 | Posted in bicycles | 8 Comments
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I got pulled over the cops the other day. Rather excitingly, it’s the first time I’ve ever been pulled over with lights and sirens blaring!

The reason was that I was riding like cyclists do in 98% of the world – that is to say without a polystyrene hat. In Australia, of course, this deviant behaviour is considered a criminal offence. And not a minor one – the fine is $325. That’s the same as a car driver not giving way to pedestrians on a crossing flashing amber, and drinking alcohol whilst driving.

I spoke to the officers, and explained I have an exemption, and showed it to them. It remains to see if they accept it or if I get a ticket through the post. But what a waste of everyone’s time.

Still, it seems the NSW police are keen to ensure vulnerable road users are suitably penalised for daring to use a Sydney road network that is hostile towards them. A few days later, I was in the city and witnessed no less than five motorcycle cops booking pedestrians who dared to scuttle across a pedestrian crossing when it wasn’t green. Given that this is right outside Sydney Central Station and there are a lot of pedestrians needing to cross, that there is relatively few vehicles, and that the green time for pedestrians is woeful (about five seconds every three minutes), you can hardly blame a few people for crossing on the red man.

But no, the NSW police were there, handing out tickets ($72, if you were interested). Whilst I watched, I saw two cars drive through on very amber lights ($325, as explained above), and one on red ($433), but rather than jumping onto their powerful motorcycles to catch the miscreants putting people’s lives in danger, they just chatted amongst themselves.

Great to know our safety is so important to them.

Update:

In recent news, it was reported that the number of fines issued to cyclists rose massively last year  – $1.99m in fines, compared to $0.33m the previous year. The number of injuries also fell, by about 7% – but cycling participation fell about 25% (from 17% of people to 12.5% of people regularly riding bicycles). This means, of course, that cycling actually became more dangerous last year. All those fines and police activity have driven people off their bikes, and made it more dangerous for those that remain.

And, true to form, I was pulled over yet again this morning. This is on a ride where I saw perhaps 4 drivers using a mobile phone, and close to 10 drivers driving through an amber or red light. So a pretty typical ride. The road safety priorities in NSW (and Australia more generally) are truly f—-d.

police again

Arnott’s Shortbread Cream – Mango and Cream

August 1, 2017 at 15:41 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Arnott’s have been busy again, with more ‘Twisted Faves’. This time they have taken the Shortbread Cream, and made it mango flavour.

I love mangoes. They herald the arrival of summer; sweet, luscious and decadent. I like all varieties, although I’m especially keen on the R2D2 variety (that’s not what it’s called, but I can never remember the real name), and the more recent ‘Kerrygold’. The junior Chillikebabs like them too, and we often share a mango after lunch, popping it our into a hedgehog to endless delight.

Mrs Chillikebab doesn’t like mangoes. She says they smell of wee. So how will these biscuits fare? Sweet and luscious, or lavatorial?

Sad to say, they don’t hit the mark. Mango is a tricky thing to do in a biscuit, as that fresh zinginess is pretty hard to recreate. It seems Arnott’s have fallen into the all too common trap of making something too sweet and cloying, without any bite or fragrance. You have to search quite hard to get much mango flavour from these; they are just a bit sickly, with a slightly artificial tang. Tellingly, when I put the packet out in the kitchen at work, there were three or four biscuits left at hometime. This is a rare occurrence, so these are not really doing it for anyone it seems.

Sorry Arnott’s. It’s a nice idea, and good on your for having a try, but these I’m afraid are only getting a three out of ten.

Bike share in Shanghai

July 26, 2017 at 14:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I had to visit Shanghai recently, and was amazed by the number of bike share bikes there were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The system there does not rely on the docking stations more common elsewhere, but rather the bikes can be picked up and left anywhere, meaning there are bikes scattered all over the place. You literally can’t walk more than a few metres without coming upon one. It’s quite amazing.

Each bike has a unique QR code on the rear, and to use the bike you scan this with an app. This then tells you the unlock code for the bike, and you can punch in the number and ride away. When you’ve finished with it, you simply click the lock, and leave the bike wherever you want. The first fifty minutes of use are free, and after that it’s I think a few Yuan per hour.

They are certainly well used, with people zipping about on the distinctive bikes everywhere. There are no bicycle lanes or facilities, and the traffic is heavy, but it all just mixes together and I didn’t see any aggression from drivers towards cyclists. Cyclists seem to be able to go on and off the footpaths, ride through red lights, down the street the wrong way and so on without anyone really batting an eyelid. I understand they are supported by the government in order to try and reduce the horrific air pollution in Shanghai.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try out the bikes for myself. Maybe next time…

The Restorer – Michael Sala

July 19, 2017 at 15:18 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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The Restorer is Micheal Sala’s second novel, and is set in Newcastle, a small city a few hours north of Sydney in Australia. It’s a novel about one family, as their father, Roy, attempts to heal the rifts in their past by buying a near-derelict house in a new city and restoring it – and, he hopes, his family too.

At first, things seem to improve, but the bubbling tensions below the surface continually threaten to erupt, driven by Roy’s unpredictable, brooding violence. This is a very bleak book, and we are drawn into the struggles, dysfunction and violence of both this one family, and the wider society they inhabit.

One of the strengths of the book is that we end up empathising with all the characters; they are all in some way trying to overcome their flaws and break free of their pasts. However, ultimately Roy is unable to contain or tame his violence, and as the book progresses it crescendos towards a devastating finale. This is an intense portrait of a violent family, and has its roots in Sala’s own upbringing, and the fear of provoking his violent stepfather. It’s a beautifully written yet brutal story, and is utterly compelling.

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