Sunday, November 29, 2015

An undeserved reward.

Since my article last week outlining the planning application that has been submitted to Bexley Council to redevelop the former White Hart / Potion building, I have received a number of reactions from readers. Overall the reception has been broadly positive.  Most people accept that the exterior of the White Hart needs to be restored to how it looked prior to the owners of Potion illegally ripping out the Victorian frontage and replacing it with anachronistic plate glass, despite the building having both listed status, and being located in a conservation zone. Such as restoration will come at a heavy price, and the profits made from converting the upper floors of the building into apartments would not be sufficient to make the project financially viable. The creation of some low rise apartments in the large pub garden, overlooking the river would make the whole thing much more attractive to a developer. The fact that at present no planning application has been submitted by the owners, The Wellington Pub Company, for the ground floor public area of the building, one may suspect that a further application is yet to be submitted. What form this will take is anyone's guess. I did have one response from a regular reader who was less than impressed with the current development proposals (edited for content):- "It would be lovely if it would be turned into a sit down Indian restaurant or some other kind, Erith sadly lacks somewhere to eat of an evening, I'm sure you agree. With lack of interest from such business' its fate is certain to be converted into even more crappy flats like so many other closed boozers. Is there no stopping the relentless charge to fill every spare bit of grass in Erith with wretched flats?" The fact is, Erith is a prime dormitory town for London, and at present it has the second lowest property prices in the South East (marginally beaten into the number two position by Barking and Dagenham). It is inevitable that developers will see the area as one very attractive for people to move into. Personally I am not averse to such development, providing it is done properly, and not just a "sling it up and trouser the cash" approach. I feel more on this subject in the coming weeks. 

Further to my recent investigations into, and blog articles about both Betamax video recorders and Capacitance Electronic Disk players, I have discovered something even more astonishing. The earliest surviving recording of John Logie Baird’s pioneering TV transmissions will be staying in Scotland, after an anonymous donor stepped last month to purchase the historic record. It was made on the 20th September 1927 on a 78rpm PhonoVision shellac disc, recorded and played on what is essentially a television gramophone. A temporary ban on exporting a collection of early television memorabilia, including the recording, had been due to expire just before the benefactor stepped in. The collection was given an asking price of £78,750 earlier this year, and there were fears the historic material would pass into private hands. However, an anonymous businessman has now stepped in to purchase the historical collection, to be stored at the University of Glasgow. The donor reportedly lived in John Logie Baird’s hometown of Helensburgh for 20 years. PhonoVision was the very first method of video recording ever invented. John Logie Baird was very familiar with sound recording onto analogue disks; naturally, this well-known technique was tried for video, and in fact the first video format of all was the Baird Television Record - also known as PhonoVision - which was first demonstrated by John Logie Baird in 1927. This was a standard 78-RPM record, intended to be played on a modified gramophone, which would be hooked up to a Baird television. This was only possible because of the extremely low bandwidth of Baird's mechanical TV system, which ran at 12.5 frames per second, and used a mere 30 lines in each frame. TV records were sold in the 1930's by Selfridges in London, for seven shillings each -- the equivalent of about £10 today. Since Baird never seems to have produced a working player, and certainly never had one on sale, this was rather an odd idea; people would simply listen to the chirrup of the TV signal, and imagine the wondrous future it suggested. By the late 1930s, Baird's mechanical television system had been improved to 240 lines, but other pioneers had developed an alternative system -- the electronic scanning system we use today. As soon as the public could see both side-by-side, the superiority of the 405-line electronic TV was apparent, and Baird's mechanical "televisor" was obsolete.The TV record disappeared with it, though apparently a few TV records did survive - eleven examples are still known to exist.

London's Big Issue sellers have diversified into selling coffee from last Monday. The company is going to sell coffee to Londoners under the name Change Please, a new brand backed by the Big Issue magazine. They have eight coffee carts spread across central London with sites in Covent Garden, Waterloo and Paddington. The not-for-profit company will pay baristas the London living wage of £9.15 an hour and train them for jobs with firms from the food and beverage, legal and banking sectors while also providing temporary accommodation. In the past I would have been pleased to hear such news, but some in depth investigation by fellow local bloggers has made me think again. They have uncovered an eye - opening story that Romanian organised criminals have been infiltrating the Big Issue for several years, forcing genuinely homeless people out of the organisation in order to get their own people illegally into the sales pitches. A number of individuals have investigated the case of one Robert Dumitru who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years after being convicted of conning Greenwich Council tax payers out of over £60,000 worth of housing and council tax benefit, even though he was later found to have over £105,000 in the bank; this didn't include the £67,000 he had already sent back to Romania. It would seem that the organised criminal gang are using a little known (until now) loophole which classes The Big Issue sellers as being self employed, and thus eligible for housing benefit. The irony is, that if they are receiving housing benefit, they are not homeless, and therefore should not be selling The Big Issue. I think it is only a matter of time before this scandal gets mainstream press coverage, as it really needs to be exposed. I have visions of the Big Issue Foundation going the same way as the Kid's Company once the story breaks. Apologies for my vagueness as to those who have investigated this story, but there are currently ongoing investigations that I am unable to identify in any detail at present. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The News Shopper has been carrying a story about the supposed “Black Friday” terrorist attack planned to hit shoppers at Bluewater. Apparently a person had posted a hoax story on FaceBook saying that Police and other emergency services were expecting a terrorist attack at the shopping centre, and that this has been confirmed by “a friend of a friend” who worked in Bluewater’s’ Security team. The claim then went on to say that 750 body bags had already been delivered to the shopping centre prior to the claimed attack. The post, which had over 8,000 shares on social media sites, was of course total rubbish, and completely fictitious. Firstly I feel that the culprit should be held responsible for spreading stories likely to cause alarm and concern, and which may also have tied up Police time investigating the veracity (or otherwise) of the claim. Secondly, how can eight thousand people be credulous and gullible enough to share the claim on Facebook? It never ceases to amaze me that a significant minority will believe pretty much anything that is published on social media, especially Facebook – it is the digital equivalent of “it was in the newspaper, so it must be true”. There is a psychological theory called “ego investment” which may go quite some way to explaining why people tend to behave in such a manner. Ego investment basically means how much people care about a certain subject. That, in turn, dictates how much time and energy they'll spend investigating, defending, and sharing their knowledge about it. If they're not really invested in something, they won't put in any effort to vet it out -- because they don't really care. So why post it at all? It may be that a paranoid mind-set can override a dubious one, which results in a "just in case" attitude.  "It won't hurt me to post this, even if it isn't true -- so why not? Maybe I should ... just in case something might happen." On top of this there may also be what is termed “the lemming factor” – where Facebook users feel that if they are not reacting to a story, however implausible or bizarre, then they will be in some way losing out. This is very similar to the old phenomenon of chain letters; There’s a sense of ritualized behaviour of sharing it that makes you feel more in control—which is why people share the letters that say if you don’t share this, then something bad will happen—because the cost of not doing it is big, but the cost of sharing it is minimal. There is also the friendship element – if the hoax story has been posted by a friend, and you trust the friend, you are more likely to believe stories that they post – their critical faculties having been short circuited by their relationship. At the end of the day, social media hoaxes are so common and widespread that one would have thought that the general public would have become more inured to them by now, but this still seems sadly not to be the case.

The News Shopper are reporting that another big budget movie has been filmed using Crossness Pumping Station as a major location. The forthcoming film “Victor Frankenstein” which opens on the 3rd December. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in a remake of the classic sci fi tale. Crossness Pumping Station is used to double as Doctor Frankenstein’s laboratory. It is far from the first time the grade one listed building has been used in television or the movies. The pumping station interior was used as the Masonic Temple occupied by the evil Lord Blackwood in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 version of “Sherlock Holmes”; it was also used in the 1989 Tim Burton directed “Batman” movie, and as part of the interior of the starship Nostromo in the original “Alien” movie. The interior of the pumping station is stunning, as you can see in the video above. It was constructed by the Metropolitan Board of Works Chief Engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette between 1859 and 1865, as part of Bazalgette's redevelopment of the London sewerage system, it features spectacular ornamental cast ironwork, that Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as "a masterpiece of engineering – a Victorian cathedral of ironwork". The Pump Room was used to house giant custom – built pumps which enabled the incoming liquid effluent to be raised some 30 to 40 feet. The pumping engines were of enormous size and power. They were built by James Watt and Co. to Joseph Bazalgette's designs and specification, and were named "Victoria", "Prince Consort", "Albert Edward" and "Alexandra". The pumps worked at eleven revolutions per minute, and six tons of sewage per stroke per engine were pumped up into a 27-million-imperial-gallon reservoir, and was released into the Thames during the ebbing tide. The steam required to power these engines was raised by twelve Cornish boilers with single "straight-through" flues situated in the Boiler House to the south of the Engine House, and which consumed approximately five thousand tons of Welsh coal annually. At this time, the Crossness Works merely disposed of raw sewage into the river seawards, and in 1882, a Royal Commission recommended that the solid matter in the sewage should be separated out, and that only the liquid portion remaining should be allowed, as a temporary measure, to pass into the river. In 1891, sedimentation tanks were added to the works, and the sludge was carried by steam boats and dumped further out into the estuary, at sea. The smell of the river must have been awful – and to think that people swam in the Thames at Erith, only a couple of miles downriver during the popular summer season. You might well have come out from a dip looking a fetching shade of brown – and not from a sun tan! The whole of the Crossness Pumping Station was a real tribute to classic Victorian over – engineering – and possibly part of the reason so much survived after the giant steam powered pumps were decommissioned and left to rot for years. The pumping station became a Grade I listed building in 1970 and will remain on the Heritage at Risk Register until the restoration is completed. The Crossness Engines Trust, a registered charity, was formed in 1987 to oversee the restoration project. The station contains the four original pumping engines, which are thought to be the largest remaining rotative beam engines in the world, with 52 ton flywheels and 47 ton beams. Although the engines are original, they are not in their original 1864 configuration as all four engines were converted from single cylinder to the current triple expansion operation in 1901 and 1902. Prince Consort was returned to steam in 2003 and now runs on Trust Open Days. The other engines are not in working order, although work has begun on the restoration of Victoria.

The photo above was sent to me earlier this week by Maggot Sandwich reader and local history enthusiast Raymond Ratcliff.  It shows Bexley Road, Erith, back in 1910. You may recall that last week I featured a photograph showing a row of shops called Station Parade from the late 1970’s / early 1980’s. Station Parade was later built on the site of the tram shelter shown above. It is fascinating to see how the local area has changed over the years, not always for the better.  It is interesting to see that the shelter at the tram stop has open sides; knowing how the wind whistles along Bexley Road nowadays, it cannot have been any fun to stand at the tram stop in the winter, as I doubt it would offer very much protection from the weather. The boy in the photo seems to be staring at the photographer. I would imagine he was saying something along the lines of “Mister – wot are you doin?”. A fascinating snapshot of times gone by. If you have any old photographs of the local area which you would like to see featured on the Maggot Sandwich, please drop me a line to

Hackers have been using ransomware - a type of malware in which attackers can steal or delete the contents of users’ computers if they don’t pay a ransom - for the past 25 years. Now, it seems, the same tactic may be used on medical devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers. Ransomware in medical devices is the single biggest cybersecurity threat for 2016, according to a recent report from research and advisory firm Forrester. As of yet there are no documented cases of hackers holding a user ransom by his medical device, but experts are realizing that cybersecurity for medical devices—really anything connected to the Internet, including surgical robots—is lagging woefully behind the digital protection arming other systems and gadgets. Experts quoted in a recent piece in Bloomberg Business estimate that the security around medical devices is about a decade behind the overall standard. Earlier this year, the Federal Drug Administration issued a letter warning American hospitals and patients that a pump commonly used to ration out proper dosing of medicine in IVs could be vulnerable to attack. Threats to medical devices may have been common knowledge (enough to make up a plot twist on the TV show Homeland) but no one paid much attention because there didn’t seem to be any clear benefit to a hacker. Who would want to mess up Joe Blogg's drug infusion pump? But as more health insurance providers find themselves under fire, it’s clear that hackers have set their sights on the healthcare industry. And with the prospect of a ransom, that threat feels all too immediate and personal, especially since it’s not cheap—most hackers ask for $200 to $10,000, according to the FBI. Between April 2014 and June 2015, hackers’ extortions via personal computers cost American victims $18 million. What has happened in America invariably happens in the UK sooner or later. Unlike on a personal computer, individuals can’t put digital security measures in place to protect their biomedical devices. It’s up to the manufacturers of the device’s hardware and software to put the proper security protocols in place. Hopefully they can do so before ransomware becomes as big of an issue as predicted. Many cyber-security vendors view ransomware as 2016's biggest threat, and to help drive this point home, a Symantec security researcher demonstrated how easy it can be to infect smart TVs and how hard it can be to clean the infection afterwards. The researcher did not reveal the TV's make and model but said it was running a modified version of Google's Android operating system, which many brands also use for their smart TV products. To infect his TV, Symantec's research team used a common ransomware family that targets Android devices. This ransomware shows an annoying ransom note every few seconds, overlaying the message on top of the screen, making the device inoperable. Most Android ransomware works on Android OS-based TVs the investigation team said that infection of his device was made possible due to the lack of TSL / SSL encryption for sensitive communications between the TV and remote servers, used for app installs or firmware updates. With a simple MitM (Man-in-the-Middle) attack, the researcher placed the ransomware on his device by spoofing a game installation package. The ransomware installation didn't encounter any roadblocks and soon took root on the device, blocking the user from using it. After installing the ransomware, Symantec then studied methods to have it removed. Their quest was not as successful as they wished, and they found that the ransom note made it almost impossible to carry out a factory reset, start a support session with the TV maker's support staff, or execute other operations. They were eventually able to remove the ransom note, but only because they had activated the ADB (Android Debug Bridge) tool before installing the malware. This tool allowed him to connect the TV to a laptop and remove the ransomware from there. Other types of malicious attacks are also possible on smart TVs Besides ransomware, Symantec says that smart TVs are also vulnerable to other types of threats. Attackers can hijack smart TVs to perform click fraud, crypto-currency mining, steal user personal data, extract various authentication credentials used by smart TV apps, or even add the TV to a DDoS botnet. To prevent malware from infecting smart TVs or stop malicious actors from carrying out other types of attacks, Symantec provided a series of mitigation techniques that smart TV owners can employ. Some of the most useful tips recommend that users always keep their TV's software updated to the latest version, that they disable features that they don't use, and only install apps from verified sources. Additionally, users should enable app verification in the TV's settings, inspect the TV's built-in security settings, and turn up the defensive features to max, and always disable remote access to the TV when not needed. As I have previously written, in my own experience, Smart TV's are seriously overrated. 

Above you can see two photos which show part of Erith in a "then and now" way. The upper photo was taken in around 1935, and shows James Watt Way looking North; To the right of the photo can be seen The Prince of Wales pub, and ahead is the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society shop, on the corner of Manor Road. Just out of the shot, to the left would have been the construction site for the forthcoming Odeon Cinema, which opened in 1937. You can see some period photos of the cinema by clicking here. In the lower photo, you can see the McDonald's drive through burger bar where the pub once stood, and in place of the RACS shop, there is now a KFC fried chicken drive through. To the left, on the site of the Odeon Cinema (demolished in 1999, even though it was a grade 2* listed building) is a block of flats with offices and the new, faceless Erith Library on the ground floor.  I think pretty much anyone who has spent time living in or around Erith is of the opinion that the old Victorian town centre should never have been demolished. If it was still in place now, the town would be a significant tourist attraction. 

The following warning has been published by Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association:- "SCAM WARNING We have had several co-ordinators report the same delivery scam to us. Whereby you receive a phone call from a courier company asking when you would be home so that they can deliver a package which requires a signature. Once arranged a uniformed delivery man arrives with a basket of flowers and a bottle of wine. The courier cannot tell you who has ordered the flowers but says that the message card would be sent separately. However, there is a consignment note which states that because the gift contains alcohol that there is a £3.50 delivery/ verification charge which supposedly provides proof that the gift has actually been delivered to an adult (of legal drinking age). The courier refuses cash as payment and says that the delivery company requires payment by credit or debit card. He then asks you to swipe your card on a mobile card machine with a small screen and enter your PIN on the keypad. A receipt is printed out and given to you. By now you have given the fraudster all the information necessary to create a "dummy" card with your card details including the PIN number. WARNING: Be wary of accepting any "surprise gift or package," which you neither expected nor personally ordered, especially if it involves any kind of payment as a condition of receiving the gift or package. Also, never accept anything if you do not personally know or there is no proper identification of who the sender is. Above all, the only time you should give out any personal credit/debit card information is when you yourself initiated the purchase or transaction!"

Leader of Bexley Council Teresa O’Neill has been awarded an OBE in the in the Queen's Birthday Honours list, for services to the community and local government in London. She received the award from Prince Charles on November the 19th. O’Neill has become the first sitting councillor in the borough's history to be awarded an OBE. To anyone who has any awareness of how Bexley Council operates, the news of the award will be of little surprise, but some considerable consternation. In my personal opinion the award was totally unwarranted – she’s overseen the dismantling of much of the leisure infrastructure in the borough, including the selling off of numerous parks and open spaces, the closure of the much loved Belvedere Splash Park, and the proposed disposal of a number of other public resources. Teresa O,Neill is the queen of selling off the family silver, with no thought for the future. For more details on why Teresa O’Neill does not deserve public recognition for her works, you only need to take a look at Malcolm Knight’s excellent “Bexley is Bonkers” site to get a real idea of what has been going on locally.

Plans to build a new bridge across the Thames between Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe on either side have reached completion in a new feasibility study. The proposed ‘Rotherhithe Bridge’ would have the longest bascule span (opening bridge) in the world, at 600ft (184m), for use by pedestrians and cyclists. It would be the first bascule bridge on the river that would open to let shipping through since Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. Pedestrians and cyclists would use two separate parallel spans, each 15ft wide, avoiding conflict that occurred between walkers and riders in the nearby Greenwich foot tunnel last year. The bridge would run east-west from Millwall on the Isle of Dogs to Rotherhithe, roughly following the London Underground Jubilee Line deep below the riverbed, just south of Westferry Circus. The pedestrian approach from Millwall would start at Westferry Road, while the longer cycle approach would wind its way from Canary Wharf’s Westferry Circus upper deck. The scheme is a response to demand in south-east London for a river crossing which would cut commuting time and congestion on other parts of London’s overstretched transport network. Commuters from Rotherhithe would get easy access to the DLR and to Crossrail opening in 2018, while cyclists from east London could cross to Surrey Quays without a long and polluted traffic route detour to Tower Bridge or the dangerous Rotherhithe Tunnel. Up to three million people a year would use it, the proposers envisage. Cost is estimated at £88m, taking up to five years to build. Bearing in mind the bridge would be for pedestrians and cyclists only, I cannot see much objection to the scheme. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Thirty years ago this month, hugely successful and very popular offshore radio station Laser 558 went off air for the last time. The station, which began broadcasting in May 1984 was financed and operated by business and broadcasting executives. Laser 558 used disc jockeys from the USA. It was based on the ship MV Communicator in the international waters of the North Sea. Within months the station had a large audience due to its strong signal, fast moving American presentation style, and continuous music mixing current records with oldies. However, insufficient advertising starved the station off the air in November 1985. Below is a contemporary news report which ironically does much to promote Laser 558, which for a short time was more popular in London and the South East of England than BBC Radio One