Facing the cops…

May 30, 2011 at 19:52 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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I found the whole experience of going to court rather stressful and bruising; it is a horrible experience that is designed to be intimidating. I stewed on it for the whole weekend, and even though I ‘won’ I really didn’t feel much sense of satisfaction or closure, and was in all honesty starting to wish I had just paid the fine and dropped the matter.

Then, this morning, as it by fate, the cops were on Pyrmont Bridge again. A fellow cyclist saw them up ahead and warned me. Dispirited, I turned around, planning to go around the convention centre. But they had spotted me, and I heard them approach; the swish of their tyres clear behind me on the wet asphalt.

I stopped, and I prepared myself for another lecture. It was the same cops, of course, and they recognised me.

Summoning up some enthusiasm, I greeted them. “Good morning, Officer! Actually I have some really good news for you this morning!’.

He raised his eyebrows quizzically.

‘I was in court on Friday, defending myself against two counts of riding without a helmet. And I’m pleased to say that the magistrate recorded a verdict of ‘no conviction’!’

Some further discussion ensued, and I explained what had happened in court with the cops looking increasingly crestfallen.

‘OK, ride on’, the cop said. ‘Go on.’ He waved me on my way with an irritated wave.

Suddenly, my mood lifted. I laughed out loud. I sang. I splashed through the puddles like a kid, and I felt a weight lift from my mind. This was what it had all been for. The hours of preparation, the taking time away from work and my family to go to court, the stress of giving evidence and the anger and impotence I felt being lectured by the magistrate. This is why I did it.

Just to ride my bike.

I am not a criminal

May 29, 2011 at 01:01 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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It all started back in January when I received a ticket for riding without a helmet. Then I got another one. After some umming and ahhinh, I decided to contest them – I just wasn’t prepared to be branded a criminal for doing something that harms no-one, and delivers benefits to society.

So yesterday I had my day in court. Going to court involves a lot of hanging around, but my case was finally called and I went to the appointed courtroom at the Dowling Centre. It was a small courtroom, and the only people there were myself, the prosecutor and the court clerk. Whilst waiting for the magistrate the prosecutor and I got chatting, and it turned out he was a cyclist too, and he commuted in from Gordon each day. All very jolly.

Then the magistrate arrived, and we were off. The prosecution outlined the evidence (essentially just the citations I have been given), and the magistrate turned to me.

‘I assume you are going to plead guilty?’ she said.

I shook my head. ‘I am pleading not guilty, your honour’.

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, and she was momentarily taken aback. ‘Well, you’d better get into the witness box then.’

As she was saying this, she began to put in what appeared to be a pair of iPod earphones. Now it was my turn to be taken aback. Was she going to listed to some funky beats whilst I gave my evidence? She then directed me to speak into the microphone, so I assume that in fact she was somewhat hard of hearing, and was using the earphones to hear me clearly.

I had to pledge to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and then I was invited to begin. As you might expect, I was a little nervous. I had written out what I needed to say, but didn’t intend to necessarily read it verbatim. However, this is what I started to do to cover my nerves. I had barely got out a sentence when the prosecutor stood up and called ‘objection!’. Ooooh, how exciting! It was just like on TV.

He objected to me ‘reading a prepared statement’. His objection was upheld, and the magistrate ordered that I turn my notes over and proceed without them.

I was temporarily floored. I was very familiar with the material, but for a few moments flustered a little getting back into my stride. On reflection, I think this was a little unfair. It was my first time in court, defending myself, using a defence based on a relatively technical legal argument. And I was not permitted to use notes. Telling me not to read, well, perhaps. But not allowing me to have my notes in front of me?

I continued, and after a few fluffs the argument began to flow. I explained I would be using the defence of ‘necessity’, and explained the three elements that it was necessary to show for this defence to be upheld.

The first item was my belief that wearing a helmet puts the ride at increased risk of serious injury. I pointed out that there was significant scientific research on the subject, published in peer-reviewed journals that supported this belief. Half way into making this point, I was interrupted by the magistrate, who pointedly told me that I couldn’t use this argument in my defence unless the author of the research was there to support it. We had a bit of too-ing and fro-ing about this and the matter of whether talking about Sue’s court case was relevant, but when I was able to get a word in edgeways I explained that I was not attempting to conduct an examination of the science, but that the defence of necessity merely requires me to prove that I hold the belief on reasonable grounds – and that the very fact that there was peer-reviewed science to support my position was indeed reasonable grounds.

I managed to land this point quite well, and it did cause the magistrate to pause, and then accept the point. However she then instructed me to move on to the next point, so I was unable to explain the relevance of the judge’s comments in Sue’s case – essentially that it seemed reasonable to me to take the same position as a District Court Judge who had previously examined the evidence.

So we then moved on to the second item; that of necessity. The magistrate got very hung up on telling me that ‘this cannot be about you riding a bicycle’, which was kind of odd given that the entire case was about me riding a bicycle. I made a few salient observations about the necessity to ride to safeguard my health, and then was again hurried onto the final point, meaning was unable to make the argument about the need to reduce my carbon footprint.

The final point was to demonstrate that no harm was caused by me breaking the law. I commented that no harm had been caused by me riding, and indeed a number of benefits had been accrued, such as benefits to my health, and to reducing congestion.

And that was that, I was stood down from the witness box, as the prosecution had no questions.

The judge then delivered a little speech. She praised my passion and conviction, which was nice. However, she then launched into a rant about how I had failed to demonstrate that I had reasonable grounds to believe that wearing a helmet increases the risk of injury. She called my argument ‘ridiculous’, and whilst she acknowledged that my belief was ‘honestly held’, she commented that she knew someone who honestly believes that we are descended from aliens that landed in a spaceship, and whilst they held that belief honestly it was, like my argument, not reasonable. ‘It is simply irrational’, she continued, ‘to believe that wearing protective equipment does not reduce the risk of injury.’

I must admit, I struggled to keep a straight face through this. The irony of the matter was stark; I was the one with the rationally held beliefs, based on a long and careful study of the science, and yet apparently the opinions of a magistrate with no expertise in the matter at all were more valid. I wonder if she knows that she is essentially calling her learned colleague Judge Ellis ‘irrational’ and ‘ridiculous’, as after considering the evidence he too came to the conclusion that wearing a helmet was more likely to do harm than good.

She also rambled on about how injuries do cause a cost on society, and she did therefore not accept my argument that no harm was caused. This reflects her incorrect grasp of the law; the defence of necessity only requires that no harm was caused on the specific occasion under consideration (which in this case can be shown, as on that day I caused no harm by riding my bike), however she took the argument to the general case that riding without a helmet may, at some point in the future, cause harm.

The one part of my argument she did not comment on was the point of necessity – the argument that I had to be riding my bike on that occasion. This was by far and away the weakest part of the case, and one on which I think it would have been quite easy to dismiss the argument.

After heading her speak, I was braced for the verdict. A large fine? Or perhaps slugged with court costs for wasting her time?

However, at the very end of her speech, her tone changed slightly. She warned me that ‘this is not the right way to go about this matter’; she made the point in a rather oblique way and I found it hard to really follow the point she was making. However, it occurred to me that she was aware this was as much a political argument as a legal one, and was acknowledging that – if also trying to warn me off using the courts as a way of grandstanding the issue.

She summed up by saying she accepted the offence and that the law had been broken. And then she noted that on this occasion she would record a non-conviction, and that I was free to go.

Slightly gobsmacked I left the court – no criminal record, no fine. Did I win? Well yes, I suppose I did, but the whole thing just left a sour taste in my mouth. I had spent a long time preparing my arguments, and was frustrated that I had not been given room to make them. And I was annoyed by her holier-than-thou attitude on a matter about which she knew nothing.

I left the court and jumped back on my bike to ride home. The sun was shining, and I rode along upright and resplendent in my best suit. On the way home I passed a film crew filming cyclists passing on the Union St cycleway. I was curious as to who they were, so turned around and cycled back towards them; as I reached them I heard someone shout ‘cut!’.

They explained that they were making a promotional item on the City of Sydney cycleways to be aired in local cinemas.

‘You look fantastic!’ the director enthused. ‘I saw you coming and said ‘We’ve got to get this guy – he looks great!’

That cheered me up enormously. I rode the rest of the way singing to myself, enjoying the fine weather and the gentle swish of my tyres on the road. Who knows, perhaps you’ll see me appear on the big screen next time you go to the movies. Or perhaps not – after all, they may choose not to use footage of people breaking the law. You see, I wasn’t wearing a helmet…

Farmbake Butter Shortbread

May 25, 2011 at 15:49 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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There’s something quite appealing to me about biscuits that come in bags. They are associated in my mind with a sort of devil-may-care eat-as-many-as-you-like attitude, possibly because when I was small my parent used to sometimes buy large bags of broken biscuits from the market, and you had to eat them quickly as they were usually on the verge of going stale. You don’t see broken biscuits at the market any more for some reason; markets nowadays seem to be more about hideous china cups and retro (meaning ‘broken’) electrical goods.

These butter shortbread are made with 14% butter, and are the same size as the Choc Chip Cookies, at 45mm across. They are thicker though, especially in the centre as they are quite domed. You get a generous 28 biscuits in a packet, so can make yourself feel quite ill if you choose to eat a lot of them in one go. I can attest to this from experience.

Leaving aside the fact that when you hit biscuit number twenty all that butter sitting in your stomach makes you rather queasy these are really quite pleasant. Nice and crunchy with quite a rich flavour; although if I was to be picky I’d say the vegetable oil comes through just a bit too strongly – perhaps they could have done with slightly more butter?

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

My first day in court

May 20, 2011 at 22:45 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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After receiving two tickets for riding without a helmet, I went to court this week to start my challenge to this ridiculous law, and to plead my innocence.

I was hoping to get the matter dealt with on the day, but my hearing was deferred until Friday 27th May. I pleaded ‘Not Guilty’, and on the 27th will attempt to argue that I can be excused from wearing a helmet on the grounds of ‘necessity’; a legal device in NSW that essentially means you do not have to follow a law that puts your life or health at risk.

The whole experience was quite interesting. The courtroom has the presiding chair (normally occupied by the judge or magistrate) at the back on a raised stage, with a lower dais for the court officials. Facing this (on ‘ground level’) is a table, and behind the table are a few rows of chairs. I was one of the first people to get into the courtroom, and sat in the front row of chairs. A swarm of other people rushed in and grabbed the few chairs at the table, with some others taking the chairs next to me.

Finally the court was in session – it was the Registrar’s court, so rather than being where cases are heard it is kind of the sorting room for cases to be sent off to be dealt with elsewhere.

It was quite chaotic. Someone at the table would jump up, and call out ‘I’d like to raise the matter of Joe Bloggs’. The Registrar and prosecution would ferret around a mountain of paperwork to find Joe Bloggs’ papers, and some discussion would ensure about why the case needed to be deferred, or brought forward, or whatever. A decision would be made, and then the next person would leap up.

I soon twigged that all the people swarming to get to the table were lawyers, and it seems the rule was simply to shout loudest, and thus get your case heard. There were some comical moments, including the lawyer with a long list of names whom he called, and then admitted that he had received no instructions from any of his clients, and therefore did not know what to plead, nor if they needed more time. There was also a lady barrister who was unable to get a word in edgeways, as every time she rose to speak some other lawyer would jump in in front of her, as she made despairing faces at her client, including shrugging her shoulders and mouthing ‘how rude!’.

It soon became clear that the order of proceedings had nothing whatsoever to do with the times on the sheet pinned up outside the courtroom, and that if I wanted to get heard I would have to join in the scrum. Accordingly when a lawyer vacated a chair at the table I leapt into it, and then quickly stood up and called out that I wanted to raise the matter of my own case.

My paperwork was found, and I confirmed that I wanted to plead ‘Not Guilty’. The registrar asked if I had any witnesses, and I said I did not, and furthermore would not need the police officers to attend either as I was not going to contest the facts of the case. There was some discussion of this, and then the prosecution agreed that no legal brief would therefore be provided, and I was given a hearing date.

So I go back to court on Friday for the real thing. My chances of winning are very slim – but there is just a chance I could set a NSW legal precedent. Which would be handy as I have another outstanding ticket pinned to the fridge.

The best part of the day, though, was riding to court. It was a beautiful day; sunny but cool and crisp, and I rode all the way in my best suit; sitting upright and stately on the Radish and feeling like a million dollars. (I was secretly hoping to be photographed for Sydney Cycle Chic, but I suspect I’m not good looking enough…)

I rode up to the court and hopped off my bike in front of the police officers standing outside. Without wearing a helmet, obviously.

DIY transportation

May 16, 2011 at 20:45 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I am very excited to announce that Baby Chillikebab has graduated. She took her first steps a few weeks ago, and has been gradually gaining confidence walking upright since. As such, she will henceforth be known as ‘Toddler Chillikebab’.

Going along with this new found locomotion is a high degree of curiosity about everything – especially the heaters, which we have had on from time to time given the chilly weather. Mrs Chillikebab therefore told me to do something to prevent little fingers getting burned, so I took it upon myself to build a kind of gate / enclosure thing that would block access to the gas fire.

After designing a very swish wooden affair with upright bars I set off to the hardware store to get the bits. The timber I wanted came in five metre lengths – and even for the Radish this seemed too much. The man helpfully cut them down to three metres for me to load onto the bike.

The staff in the store seemed most amused as I loaded up and rode off, and offered to put some hazard tape on the protruding planks. Riding home was very easy, even though I was reaching the pedals over the top of the bundle of wood.

I haven’t finished building the thing yet, of course. My airy ‘should only take an hour or so’ prompted the rejoinder from Mrs Chillikebab ‘so that’s the rest of the day then’. Actually even the rest of the day wasn’t enough, although it is almost finished. Oh well. A few more days of the ‘cold house vs burned fingers’ dilemma…

Ginger Nut (NSW)

May 15, 2011 at 13:05 | Posted in biscuits | 15 Comments
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Well, here it is. The review that many have been waiting for – the legendary New South Wales Ginger Nut.

New South Wales? That’s right. Arnott’s actually bake four different varieties of Ginger Nut that are available in different states. This is because Arnott’s used to have bakeries all over the place, and each bakery produced a slightly different product. Arnott’s subsequently consolidated all its manufacturing into one plant in NSW, and hence started shipping the NSW Ginger Nut all across Australia. The result?

Uproar. Outside of NSW people took to the streets with placards, there was looting, civil unrest – for a while it really did look as if the veneer of civilisation was slipping away from Australian society. Australians were simply not happy that someone could mess with their ginger nut. The Governor-General intervened and called for a truce, and Arnott’s agreed to continue to bake the different varieties that people were used to. And so, to this day, Arnott’s bake four different versions of the Ginger Nut and ship them to different states according to local tastes.

In a future review we shall return to this theme, and do a comparison of each of the different types. However, this review focuses on the NSW variety; and in so doing perhaps gives an inkling as to why there was such consternation when the NSW Ginger Nut hit the shelves and palates of people unused to them.

On the surface, the biscuit looks fairly ordinary; quite thin and round. It smells appropriately gingery, and all looks fairly normal.

However, when you come to take a bite, you laugh. You see, someone has switched your packet of biscuits with a joke pack, and in fact these are fake ones made of wood. You put them down, still chortling, and check carefully; ask around as to who the trickster was and so on.

Then realisation dawns. These are no joke. Gingerly you try taking another bite; you hold the biscuit between your teeth and pull down in an attempt to break off a mouthful. Amazingly, despite gripping with the full extent of your jaw muscles and heaving with all your might, you are unable to get the NSW Ginger Nut to yield. You take if from your mouth and it looks completely unharmed, without so much as a scratch or an indentation from your teeth.

They really are quite extraordinary. Being of a sometimes scientific bent, your intrepid correspondent has put the NSW Ginger Nut to the test to discover just what the Ultimate Tensile Strength of Ginger Nut material is. This is done with the Three Point Flexural test. Unfortunately the the industrial flexural test rig I keep in the garage for just such occasions wasn’t working on this day, so instead I had to improvise using cocktail sticks and some heavy weights.

I rested the NSW Ginger Nut on a cocktail stick, and held it down on one side, like a see-saw with only one person on it. I then piled weights on the other side, starting with a heavy board and then adding more weight on top. By keeping the first side down, I was able to measure how much force had to be applied before the biscuit suffered brittle ultimate failure.

Amazingly, the biscuit was able to withstand forces of over 50 Newtons (represented by over 5kg of weights piled on the top). This is I think a testament to the bakers at Arnott’s; clearly this is a material that has few manufacturing flaws.

These data can then be used to calculate the strength of the material; it is given by this formula:

where x is the strength, k the cross-section area, e the force applied and lambda the coefficient of gingeryness.

The test shows that the NSW Ginger Nut has a strength of 34 MPa; below is a table comparing this to other common materials:

As you can see, this places the NSW Ginger Nut ahead of both glass and concrete, but still less strong than wood – so it seems the comparison to a wooden disc is an unfair one. Still, with a greater strength than both glass and concrete it does occur to me that rather than building skyscrapers in the conventional way, Arnott’s could simply bake them instead. Much more environmentally friendly, and who wouldn’t enjoy working in an office imbued with a lovely gingery aroma?

I do like the NSW Ginger Nut. It is a unique product that requires a sort of karate-like skill to bite into. It also dunks beautifully; there is very little danger of getting crumbs in your tea with the NSW Ginger Nut as it can withstand the hot tea almost indefinitely without affecting its structural integrity. Indeed, many people contend that this is the only way to truly enjoy them; the hot tea softening the biscuit and enhancing the flavour ‘not unlike a fine red which releases its best when decanted’ (as one of my correspondents put it). I’m going to give these an eight out of ten, plus a bonus point for being so marvellously uncompromising. No wonder the non-NSW residents of Australia rebelled when faced with such a tough opponent!

Tim Tam Chewy Caramel

May 8, 2011 at 23:13 | Posted in biscuits | 3 Comments
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Chewy. Ahh, chewy. I do enjoy a good chew; a good hunk of golden toffee, some hard jubes, even some Redskins now and again.

So as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to get my hands on the Chewy Caramel version of the Tim Tam. I rushed them home, but rather than tearing into them, I carefully put them in the fridge. I wanted to get the optimal chewy experience, so painfully watched the minutes tick by as they cooled down.

The delay did give me time, however, to look up the meaning of ‘Chewy’ on the internetz. Here’s what it had to say:

Oh yes. By now my gums where aching in anticipation of needing to chew ‘hard or for some time’. Nom nom nom.

Finally, I judged they were ready. I took them from the fridge, and took one out. They look just like regular Tim Tams, but I knew better. Nestled between those two biscuits was a layer of chewy caramel capable of delivering ecstasy.

I took a bite, wondering if the caramel would crack and then need softening in the mouth, or would extend into a long string as I pulled the biscuit apart.

It did neither. It just sort of collapsed in a soft, unstructured way. What was wrong? Was there some mistake? I took another bite, but the realisation was dawning. These were not chewy at all. They were insipid and flabby; filled with run of the mill soft caramel that my one-year-old’s toothless gums would make light work of in a matter of moments.

What a disappointment. I was crushed; a broken man. There would be no chewing for me that day. Disconsolately I finished the packet, numbly noting the runny caramel depicted on the pack that I had previously missed, teasing me about my chewing fantasies.

These deserve a one out of ten. Not because they are that bad; indeed if they were simply called the ‘Caramel Tim Tam’ I’d probably give them a creditable six or seven. But to play so fast and loose with my emotions, to inflict such cruelty – well, for that they get a one.

Tim Tam Double Coat

May 2, 2011 at 10:02 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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What happens when you take a regular Tim Tam and give it an extra thick chocolate coating? Well, if that thought has been keeping you up an night, never fear as you can find out simply by visiting the biscuit aisle of your local supermarket. Well, if you live in Australia at least.

I have to say, I am somewhat suspicious of the ‘double coat’ moniker. This implies to me that regular Tim Tams have been taken of the production line, and then passed through the chocolate enrobing machine for a second time. However, I looked very hard at the coating on these biscuits, including examining the cross section with a magnifying glass and experimentally etching the top surface with a sharp knife, and it seems to me that this is just a singe thick coating. I suppose it’s possible that the heat in the machine might be enough to fuse the two coats together making the layers imperceptible, but I have my doubts.

The biscuits look different to regular Tim Tams as the slightly dimpled appearance of the normal chocolate coating is replaced with a smooth, glossy look. It’s actually quite classy. They taste good too; it sounds a bit boring to say they taste like a kind of extra chocolatey Tim Tam, but, well, that’s how they taste.

Finally, apologies for the grainy pictures. I bought these to share at orchestra tea break, and it was rather dark at the rehearsal hall. However I had to grab one and photograph it quickly, as they were very popular – especially amongst the violinists. I practically got swept away by a stampede of second violinists when they realised what was on offer.

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