If you go down to the woods today…

April 25, 2010 at 18:06 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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… will you be in for a big surprise? I suppose you would be if you were a teddy bear, although if they eat Teddy Bears at a teddy bear picnic it would be a bit cannabalistic.

Arnott’s Teddy Bear biscuits are part of the ‘simple goodness’ range, and are aimed at children and people who like edible cute things. Each biscuit is shaped to resemble a waving teddy bear. However, the actual biscuits are not nearly so embossed as the packet depiction suggests, and to my mind have a rather sinister air, kind of like an angry homicidal folk dancer.

These biscuits are also not quite what you expect when you eat them. They are baked to quite a high, hard bake, and are quite thick – about 8mm thick in the middle (although the taper off slightly at the edges). This hardness is quite surprising, at least to me; somehow I expect they are going to be more crumbly. Perhaps it is so these biscuit survive better in the hands of toddlers and angry folk dancers.

The ingredients are very straightforward, and are all things you would find in your cupboards at home – flour, sugar, vegetable oil, golden syrup, eggs, baking powder and salt. The golden syrup does not come through very strongly at all, so these biscuits are quite ‘plain’ tasting. In fact, they are rather dull. They also dunk extremely badly; the outside of the biscuit quickly goes nasty and soggy, whilst the thickness prevents the tea penetrating to the centre. This leaves a kind of soggy mess around a hard core, which is really not very good at all.

In summary, these biscuits are boring. They are not as teddy-bear-like as the packet suggests, and are not as much fun as the novelty shape of them might suggest. There is nothing wrong with them, and they do have a sort of home-baked taste. Just home baked by someone who scrimped on the expensive ingredients and left them in the oven a bit too long. Maybe a five out of ten?

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The Whisperers

April 20, 2010 at 15:47 | Posted in bicycles | 8 Comments
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There is something very wrong in the world of bicycling. A significant and well-funded force is afoot, and is actively discouraging cycling. They are everywhere; their influence extends widely and their message is insidious and relentless.

There are many great efforts undertaken to encourage cycling. The benefits of doing so are well known; environmental, health, congestion, road safety, public expenditure savings. And there are some great initiatives; encouraging people to ride to work or school, large social rides, programmes to encourage women onto bikes, skills training, commuter tips, bike buses and the like. However, all of these activities are having to work harder than necessary, and are less effective than they should be, because they are having to overcome those that would discourage cycling.

It’s like trying to tell people something, whilst all the time someone else is whispering in their ear with the opposite message. These Whisperers are always there, constantly undermining the positive messages about cycling. Often the Whisperers manage to get their message incorporated into positive advocacy messages, undermining the effect and sabotaging efforts to get more people riding.

So who are these Whisperers? And what is their message?

The message is very simple, and could have been carefully calculated to discourage everyday participation in cycling. It is this: ‘Riding a bike is very dangerous’. This is what is being whispered into the ears of your audience as you try to tell them of the pleasures and benefits of cycling. You talk about the convenience, how fit you have become, of the fun you have – but all the time the voice is there in the ear of your listener ‘… but it’s so dangerous. You’d be killed if you got on a bike…‘.

To overcome the Whisperers, you have to speak louder. And longer. Often to no avail; your audience can appreciate what you are saying, but think the risks you are taking simply don’t warrant the benefits. ‘It’s so risky! You take your life in your hands cycling on those streets‘, say the Whisperers, and their message is so insidious, so subliminal, so constant, and so often reinforced that no amount of positive advocacy or promotion can overcome it. ‘People get killed on bikes all the time‘ remind the Whisperers. ‘It’s not safe‘.

All cyclists know of this effect. Of riding to work day in day out for years on end – and as you prepare to ride home yet again people who have watched you for years say, ‘oooh, it must be dangerous – take care!’, or ‘You are so brave riding to work!’. Surveys show it rates as one of the major reasons why people don’t ride. People don’t ride bikes because they are scared of being killed.

So where are the Whisperers? How do they get their message out there so successfully – more successfully, it seems, than any positive messages about the benefit of cycling?

The Whisperers can be found in government. ‘Cyclists get killed all the time!’ whispers the Victorian government. ‘Cyclists have lots of crashes and get head injuries! whispers the NSW government. ‘Ride a bike and you’ll be hit by a car!’ whispers the UK government.

The Whisperers can be found in the media. “Cyclists are getting killed all the time!’ whispers the SMH, as does Channel 9. “Look how many deaths there are!‘ whispers the ABC.

The Whisperers are there in charity and not-for-profit organisations; ‘Bicycles are dangerous!’ whisper Kidsafe.

The Whisperers even get into cycling advocacy materials. ‘Lots of cyclists get hit by cars at night!’ whispers Bicycle Victoria.

Then, of course, there is the sheer volume of helmet promotion. It’s hard to find anything about cycling that doesn’t, as pretty much the first thing, insist on the wearing of helmets. ‘Cycling is so dangerous you need special protective equipment‘ murmur the Whisperers. ‘Look how much more dangerous it must be than other activities!

Maybe you don’t see the Whisperers in all of these. Or in any of these. Maybe you see well meaning advice. Well meaning it may be, but just pause and think for a moment – why does almost every promotion or communication about bicycles contain lurid descriptions of bicycle crashes, and references to cyclists being killed? This is the truly insidious nature of the Whisperers – to a non cyclist, the message is constant and reinforced. “Staying safe on a bike is hard – unless you are very careful, you’ll be killed‘. This is the message that most people hear when looking at these materials. Whisper, whisper. Other messages come and go, but this one just stays constant and unchanging. If it’s about bicycles, the Whisperers will be there, making sure their message is the one that will be remembered.

You might read the above, and dismiss it as poppycock. That I am over-sensitive; seeing things that aren’t there. Perhaps. However, next time you read or watch anything referring to cyclists, look out for the Whisperers. They might be hard to spot; if you are a cyclist you will be relatively immune to their voices. But put yourself in the shoes of a non-cyclist; one who already thinks cycling is dangerous (which most do), and look again. You might find they are whispering louder than you think.

Chocolate Scotch Fingers

April 10, 2010 at 19:21 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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It has been said by many people that you can improve anything by covering it with chocolate. Actually, I’m not sure it has been said by many people, but it might have been.

Arnott’s perhaps agree, as they took it upon themselves to take the classic Scotch Finger and add a milk chocolate coating. Is this an improvement? Or gilding the lily?

Firstly, it is worth saying that Arnott’s do use high quality chocolate in their biscuits. According to their website, they make it themselves to their own high quality standards, and clearly the effort they put into it is worthwhile.

The chocolate coating on these biscuits is not especially thick, but is not stingy either; the coating has an attractive lattice pattern where it has been poured, and the coating extends part-way down the side of the biscuit.

And. interestingly, it completely changes the character of the biscuit. The malty character of the plain version is replaced with a harmonious mixture of rich milk chocolate and shortbread; the effect is not unlike the last few mouthfuls of a chocolate ice-cream when you crunch up the cone with the remaining ice-cream.

It is good. Very good, in fact. Arnott’s don’t make a dark chocolate version of this, and normally I find dark chocolate biscuits more satisfying. However, in this case I think the milk chocolate works well; it complements the biscuits rather well; and as the Scotch Finger is not too sweet to begin with it can take the sweeter chocolate with aplomb.

The Chocolate Scotch Finger is never going to supplant the original classic. However, as an occasional treat they are very rewarding. I’d give them eight out of ten. Delicious.

The chocolate egg effect

April 7, 2010 at 08:45 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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What a lovely, warm morning it was yesterday! And I think it also there was evidence that the citizens of Sydney ate too much chocolate over the long weekend.

Why? The sheer number of cycle commuters out there. There were just hundreds of them. It was a marvellous sight to see. I hope that it is sustained, and it’s not just everyone waking up after a weekend of over-indulgence feeling guilty and jumping on their bikes. As I look at the number of cyclists, however, and look at the width of the cycleways they are building on Union and Kent St, I am increasingly convinced that they are too narrow for the volume of cyclists out there today, let along how many there will be if the CoS is successful in increasing cycling five-fold. Hopefully when they are seen to be clogged up, they will remove a traffic lane in the other direction as well, and convert them to single-direction, one on each side of the road (a design which, in any case, is far superior and also much safer).

Shake-the-head moment that happened on my commute this morning – the guy who decided to ride down the ramp at the Sydney Harbour Bridge steps, despite the large number of bikes being walked up and down (there was even a queue at the bottom waiting to get up the stairs). People had to kind of scatter out of his way. Someone remonstrated with him (I didn’t hear what they said, so it may well have not been pleasant language), and our downhill hero shouted something back and flipped the bird. All rather unnecessary; surely when it’s that busy it’s not that big a deal to walk down, both for your own safety and the safety of others? Funnily enough later on he almost ran into the back of me when I stopped at a junction to wait for a gap in the traffic.

Smile moment on the commute this morning; waiting at the lights I see a guy riding the same bike as me – a Salsa Casseroll singlespeed. I pull up next to him, and comment, ‘Nice bike!’.
He laughed and agreed, and then, looking at me again, said, ‘You were the guy that recommended it to me – we had a chat at the lights a few months ago about riding singlespeed, so I went out and bought one!’.
Amazing! I did vaguely recollect the incident. ‘Do you like it?’ I asked, with a little trepidation, wondering if the guy was going to tell me that I’d caused him to blow $1,500 on a lemon.
‘I love it!” he said’ “It’s rapidly becoming my favourite bike! Just so smooth and lots of fun. I have a Cervelo road bike, but I’m finding I’m mostly riding this, as I prefer it!’.

Another convert! Yay! Ride and Smile, folks, Ride and Smile!

(Yes, that is rust on my chain. I’m a shocker for maintenance…!)

The Mosman Hills…

April 5, 2010 at 17:35 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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What a lovely day for a ride! I managed to get out for a ride this morning – first time since the little one arrived. The logistics are all a bit more complicated now…

So I met up with a mate, and we rode out to Mosman, and down to Taronga Zoo, with two side trips down (and up!) to Bradley’s Head and Clifton Gardens. Then back in a loop via Lane Cove. A few reasonable hills to help work off the chocolate…

And, being a nice day, a chance to take the fixie for a spin. It is fun!

Not that my mate is convinced about the fixie. In his world, bikes have gears and are made by Masi! I think he was getting a bit frustrated at my inability to go down the hills at 60kph. When you can’t stop pedalling, there’s a point where you can’t spin your legs fast enough on the descent. That said, I did go up the hills faster than him!

Dangerous or not?

April 4, 2010 at 12:27 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A little while ago I replaced the bars on my pug with some wider ones; to make this easier I also bought a quill-to-threadless stem adapter. (I then set about taping the bars with a moderate degree of success.)

The finished product looks like this, including the stem adapter:

Now, I also submitted this picture along with a review of the adapter to the website where I bought it from. I then received this email from them:

_____________________
Hello Daniel,
Thank you for reviewing your Profile Quill to Ahead converter. I noticed on your submitted image that you have a gap left just below the stem. Normally you would insert the quill section into the frame completely so that your stem rests on the top of the headset. This prevents any chance of the stem slipping down the ahead mounting point or the quill slipping down the inside of your steerer tube. I may be looking at your set up incorrectly but just wanted to be sure that you are aware of the risks. Do let me know if you need any help with this.
Thank you

______________________

Now, I’m not sure about this; I actually don’t see a problem with the way it’s set up. So I sent this reply:

______________________
Many thanks for your mail, I appreciate the time you have taken to write it.
However, I’m not sure your concerns are justified. The quill is no more likely to slip inside the steerer tube than a regular quill stem of the kind that was on the bike before; one of the advantages of a quill stem is, after all, that the can be raised or lowered, and then tightened into position.
I suppose it’s possible that the stem might slip on the converter, but this too seems unlikely. Whilst we are used to seeing such stems resting on spacers, the primary purpose of the spacers is actually to prevent the steerer moving up and down with a threadless headset – it is the clamp action of the stem that holds the forks onto the bike (something that is done by the locknut on a threaded headset). The stem is no more likely to slip down the adapter than, say, the bars are to slip round in the stem (in fact it is somewhat less likely, given that the turning moment of the bars is on axis with the clamp, whilst for the stem would be against it, thus pressure on the bars would tend to jam the stem against the adapter).
As such, I don’t think there is a problem. The quill is inserted to the ‘minimum insertion’ mark, so it seems it was designed to be used in this way (otherwise the ‘min insertion’ mark would be just under the lip of the top part of the adapter). It does look a bit odd, I agree, but that’s simply because we’re not used to seeing an oversize stem fitted to a narrow quill. However, I’m confident there is no mechanical risk from this arrangement, provided all the bolts are tightened to proper tolerances.

______________________

So – what do you think? Am I correct, or does the stem need to be resting on the headset locknut? It’s worth noting that I actually doubt I’d be able to get the quill adapter any further into the steerer; it was a tight fit and difficult to get down as far as the ‘min insertion’ mark. And if I did get it lower, then the bars would be too low, unless I then bought a stem with a huge rise angle.

Tim Tam – Original Dark

April 1, 2010 at 09:12 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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Well, after looking at the iconic Scotch Finger, and wading into more dangerous waters as we delved into what the Iced VoVo tells us about the Australian psyche, I am now going to take my life in my hands by looking at what Australians universally agree is the finest chocolate biscuit in the world – the Tim Tam.

Everyone in Australia knows about Tim Tams; they were named after a racehorse; you can suck hot drinks through them prior to eating them in a bizarre ritual called the ‘Tim Tam Slam’, and they are far superior to Penguins.

The whole Penguin thing I don’t want to go into; it’s been done to death, and in any case in my opinion Penguins haven’t been the same since they stopped wrapping them in paper-backed foil, thus making the joke ‘Why don’t polar bears eat penguins? They can’t get the silver paper off’ meaningless. And if you’ve no idea what I am talking about, well, that’s fine as I’m going to drop the subject.

Tim Tams come packed in a tray that affords each individual Tim Tam its own protective cocoon. This at once illustrates how important this biscuit is, and how Arnott’s are keen to ensure they always arrive in peak condition. As with so many Arnott’s packs, there is an odd number in the pack – in this case eleven. Why Arnott’s insist on doing this I have no idea; they seem to revel in the practise of putting a prime number of biscuits in packs – seven, eleven, thirteen and so on. Some have suggested it is a ploy to make them harder to share, thus necessitating the opening of another packet. Personally it doesn’t bother me much; indeed it rather matches my own philosophy that a packet of biscuits is best enjoyed by one person, usually in one sitting.

I chose the ‘Classic Dark’ variety to review, as in my opinion they are the best Tim Tam. I can already feel the flaming coming on, but I feel justified in this assertion by reporting that the head of Arnott’s tasting research unit (who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago) agreed with me that they were the ultimate expression of Tim Tam-ness.

So what of the biscuit itself? It’s a very nice biscuit. A very nice biscuit indeed. I don’t think I dare say much more; I expect Senator Conroy’s madcap scheme to monitor the internets includes the ability to spot Tim Tam dissenters, and I’m not keen to see the interior of an ASIO interrogation room.

But they are very nice. Really.

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