Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lazy journalism.

The vintage photo above (click for a larger view) was originally taken by me as part of a school geography project on the River Thames, way back in 1981. You can see Erith Police Station - when it still was a police station, and not a seedy and badly converted bunch of low rent apartments as it is nowadays. Next to it are some buildings that were a remnant of the old Erith - they are boarded up in the photo; not too long afterwards they were demolished to make way for sheltered housing. The Cross Keys pub looks in better fettle back then than it does nowadays. At the time of writing it is still boarded up with "For Sale" signs festooned on it. It was auctioned in December last year, but thus far the buyer has not made any apparent changes or improvements to the structure; I have fears that it may soon be demolished to make way for yet more flats. I came across the photo whilst going through a huge pile of photographs whilst clearing out a cupboard in my old bedroom at my Mum's house. Nearly all of the shots were consigned to the bin - I have not looked at them in over twenty years, so I am unlikely to do so in the future. A few choice ones I have kept, and may share a couple with you online in the next few weeks. Unfortunately the rest of the geography project photos of Erith have disappeared - I was hoping to be able to archive them, but sadly this is not going to be the case.

I cannot think of a better example of lazy journalism as happened earlier this week; you may have seen several articles in the press about a new TV advert for dog food that was the first one “aimed at dogs”. The reports said how the commercial had been made with whistles and squeaks only audible by dogs and very young children. This was repeated by a number of publications, apparently without bothering to check or verify the information. Digital terrestrial TV uses a codec called DVB-T and satellite uses a codec called DVB-S. Both these systems employ a lossy compression algorithm that removes parts of the signal that humans cannot register – mainly very high frequency sounds. This saves on bandwidth - and makes for a more efficient transmission, after all, there is no point in transmitting information that the audience are unable to detect. Dogs could not react to very high frequency sounds from the advert, as they were not there. So the whole story trotted out by Bakers Dogfood PR company has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by an uncritical and unquestioning press. Poor, lazy journalism. If you have a dog, and want to both buy a quality product, and also support an important local business, I would recommend you try the Bob and Lush range.

Talking of TV (and who says I don’t plan these things?) The News Shopper is reporting that the number of TV licences issued in Bexley is falling. I think this is a bit of a red herring in some respects; whilst the recession and rising unemployment probably impacts some local people so that they have to cut down on spending to the extent that legal requirements such as TV licencing are overlooked, I think much more is down to the power of the Internet. YouTube and BBC iPlayer, to cite but two examples, are changing the way people watch TV content. Many are happier watching content on demand; whether whilst travelling, via mobile phone or tablet, or merely when at home, but not at the time the programme was originally shown. Internet enabled TV’s are also taking off. The whole BBC licencing model is seriously outdated, and really does not fit the broadcast environment of today. I completely fail to understand why a compulsory licence has to be purchased. A pay per view system as per Sky television would seem to be a more appropriate business model. I suppose this may be revisited when analogue TV signals are switched off later this year; once a fully digital environment is in place, it would make encrypted subscription content much easier to control and enforce. I guess that pirate TV cards from Southern Ireland will continue to be a problem though.

Bob Hewitt’s excellent weather website, fed from his high end digital weather station, located at his home on the Erith / Belvedere borders is now fully functional once again. Contrary to my original concerns, Bob managed to keep many of the functions up and running, despite having had to send a major circuit board back to the manufacturer for repair / replacement. I have re – added the link to the website on the quick links to the right of this text, You can also see the local weather conditions in real time by clicking here.

Both Ken and Boris are playing for the commuter vote in the forthcoming London Mayoral elections. Personally I think they are both untrustworthy. Both also want to take the outer London rail network into their remit; understandably residents in Dartford are concerned, as they are outside Greater London and unable to influence the decision as to who gets the job of mayor – a classic case of taxation without representation. Both candidates have back tracked on their positions regarding trains in particular. Boris stated that he was going to prevent ticket office closures on the parts of the line he already controls – since this, he’s witnessed in excess of 200 office closures. Ken is no better in my opinion. He oversaw the introduction of the draconian and intrusive Oyster system (did you know that every journey you make using an Oyster card is recorded, and the information stored in contravention of the Data Protection Act?) Ken said that Oyster would make travel cheaper, yet in a classic piece of double thinking, kept the fares at the same level for Oyster, but increased the cash fare – to make Oyster appear to be cheaper, whilst still raking in the dosh. Cynical? Oh yes. I feel that Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick is going to struggle to get to third place in the mayoral race; his vote looks like being split by other minority parties such as UKIP and the Green Party. If the option was available on the voting slip, this time around I would select “None of the above”.

On Friday evening I had cause to vist Morrison's, which is undergoing a fairly major refurbishment at present. I went to buy a rather expensive bottle of 18 year old single malt Scotch Whisky as a present. When I got to the check out, the cashier opened the box the bottle was presented in and removed the big metal and plastic security tag from the neck of the bottle inside; I thought nothing more about it, paid my bill and went to leave the shop, only to have the theft alarm go off when I went through the detectors by the exit. It turns out that high value, very portable items are also fitted with an RFID chip / sticker - as the security guard informed me afterwards. You may have read my previous posting about "contactless" debit cards a couple of weeks ago, and how my bank issued me with one of the cards. Eventually I got them to cancel the card and issue me with a conventional one, minus any RF shennanigans. The banks are keen on deploying this technology, even though they know it is less than perfectly secure, as they reckon the gains made through the 2.5% transaction commission charged to the vendor will far exceed any losses via fraud. This pernicious technology is spreading; it has serious privacy and security problems as well. Last year, the producers of the excellent US TV series "Mythbusters" made an episode dedicated to RFID technology. It never got broadcast, due to the threat of legal action from the multinational banks and credit card companies. You can see an interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters on the situation below:

Every so often I like to feature independent local businesses; this week it is the turn of the Chandelier and Mirror company, who quite unsurprisingly supply a huge selection of chandeliers and mirrors both to the trade and the public. They are better known locally as Georgie Gray, which is what they display on their sign outside the showroom. They have been featured a couple of times on home makeover TV shows. Their showroom is at 14 Fraser Road, almost opposite the entrance to the Europa industrial estate. Their showroom is not in the most prepossessing of locations, but they have a great stock (apparently they are one of the best specialist lighting shops in the UK). They also have an excellent website that you can view here.

I have had quite a lot of positive feedback and interest in my story about the forthcoming Raspberry Pi computer last week. There has been astonishment that a “proper” computer could be manufactured and sold at such a low price. The release date has now been set for tomorrow. I will (along with a lot of other people, I suspect) be logging on to their website to place my order as soon as I possibly can. I would not be at all surprised if the initial production run of 10,000 units does not sell out very rapidly indeed. News is starting to leak into cyberspace (when did you last hear that term used?) that the BBC are going to become officially involved in the project, sponsoring a developers tool kit, aimed primarily at children wishing to learn how to program. This, if true, is indeed excellent news. The Raspberry Pi really is becoming the BBC Micro release two.

MP for Erith and Thamesmead Teresa Pearce recently raised an issue that I had not even considered; there are no banks in Thamesmead. When you consider the large geographical area covered by the town, and the population, which numbers around the 50,000 mark - there are no banks at all; one has to venture to Woolwich to visit one; hardly an ideal situation. Why has Thamesmead no physical access to a banking service? I think the question needs to be asked.

The RNLI have been in action in the Thames at Erith again this week; they were called to rescue a man that had deliberately jumped into the river and attempted to drown himself; they rescued him and put him in the control of local Police; apparently the man was extremely disturbed and violent, according to a report in the News Shopper. Later that afternoon the RNLI were called a second time – the same man had thrown himself back into the river, in an apparent suicide attempt. You can read more about the story here. What it does illustrate is how swift the responses by the lifeboat are. They are based at Gravesend, and seem to be able to get anywhere on their patch in an amazingly short time. As I mentioned last week, they exist entirely on charitable donations, and receive no government assistance at all. It would seem, following the earlier news about the Gravesend RLNI life boat, and the excellent work that it has been undertaking, that it is actually the sixth busiest lifeboat station in the United Kingdom. Not bad going for a small inshore team. You can see their website by clicking here.

My favourite, very eccentric and utterly British business, the incomparable Bristol Cars can be seen below; Ian walked past their one and only showroom in Kensington on Saturday afternoon - he took the photo below of a Bristol Blenheim 3 pictured; it is a low mileage, pre - owned model - you can see more by clicking here. As so often happens with specialist British car companies, they ran out of cash last year and ended up going into administration. For various legal reasons I was unable to go into the details at the time (the company I work for was somewhat involved in the rescue). Anyway, they are back on a stable footing now. Bristol make the automotive equivalent of the Savile Row suit - subtle, distinctive, eye wateringly expensive, and completely individual. You can see their website by clicking here.

I am going up to the Houses of Parliament in a couple of weeks for a visit to the Strangers’ Dining Room. It is nothing to do with the Maggot Sandwich unfortunately, but rather more to do with a role I carry out at work. I don’t think cameras are allowed in the place, and I would expect overall security to be on the tight side. I'll let you know how things went after the event.

Erith has been in the local news this week for not the usual reasons. You may recall that some time ago I featured the the News Shopper has reported that members of the Nemesis Thai boxing gym in Cross Street, Erith have won kick boxing championships You can read the story here. What shocked and surprised me was the exceedingly young age of the competitors – one was only six years old, and the News Shopper reports that he has been kick boxing since the age of three! He also apparently trains five days a week. What parent would let their toddler participate in a violent contact sport? I understand that pre teenage children can be permanently affected by high impact sport and similar violent activity; it seems to me to be highly irresponsible for the parents of the six year old kick boxer to allow him to undertake such an injury threatening pastime. I feel that many other countries would set age limits for this kind of undertaking. I would be interested on what readers think, as I realise that this is a bit of a contentious issue.

This weeks' video is a re - run of something I featured back in 2010, but I have the feeling that many readers may not have seen it. It is a short video about Bristol cars, as mentioned above - do feel free to leave a comment below on anything that I have featured this week.

1 comment:

  1. marvelous blog this week i spent a good hour and half browsing with very interesting links esp bristol cars many thanks