Sunday, April 08, 2012

It goes up to eleven.

I took the photo above last Friday; I realised that I had not written anything about the hideous fish sculpture (tm)  for a very long time – in fact the first time I featured it was back on the 21st October 2006! There have been a couple of mentions since, but nothing of any great substance. The sculpture still divides local opinion – it seems to be the local art world’s Marmite equivalent; it provokes both strong positive and negative reactions, depending on who you speak to. I have found around two thirds of locals detest it, whilst a third love it. Nobody I have ever talked to about it is ambivalent. This in itself may be what the artist intended – to provoke a reaction in the audience. One positive thing the statue has done is to become a local land mark; You can say to any visitor “you’re in Erith when you can see a giant fish sculpture on the middle of a large roundabout”. They cannot really go wrong. I still stand by my original thoughts on it though; to me is resembles a giant psychedelic steaming “Mister Whippy” style turd, dumped on Erith by some gargantuan alien creature. At least it is something unique to Erith, not that I would wish it on anyone else. It is in marked contrast to the gypsy cob statue at the other end of Bronze Age Way. My astonishment with that is less to do with its’ artistic value, and more to do with it still being in one piece and not yet nicked for scrap. Talking of scrap, I had an account by one of my valuable local contacts that really shows how bad the problem of unlicenced and illegal scrap dealing in the area now is. These are his own words, slightly edited to keep his identity anonymous: "I was walking up my road  this morning with my wife, and a white van stopped a little way up in front and the occupants were looking at a skip.  Two of the usual sort began to take big chunks of concrete out of the skip and fill up an old washing machine.  "That will make it weigh more" they said to each other.   It was obvious what they were up to and I bet they were unregistered - whatever that means. Talk about brazen!" Quite - I think that succinctly somes up the situation. I have been told by a very reliable source with a position to know that around a third of local scrap dealers are unregistered and operating illegally; my source informs me that when the Police investigate, most illegal scrappies are also engaged in a myriad of other law breaking activities. The sooner the sale of scrap for cash is criminalised the better - it will not stop them, but it will make their lives a bit more difficult, which is all to the good in my books.

The photo above shows MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Teresa Pearce standing with a person dressed in a rabbit suit in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre on Saturday afternoon. The centre was holding a series of Easter themed events for small children to participate in. 

Some very good news to report for a change. It is looking increasingly likely that Bexley College will indeed migrate to a new, purpose built, low rise campus on the site of the old Erith tram shed, long since demolished; I have written about this in the past, with the hope that the move might happen, and it is now looking almost certain, subject to final planning approval by Bexley Council. There is an article in the News Shopper where the vice principal of the college explains their reasons behind the move. Apparently the old campus in Tower Road is so energy inefficient that the college currently spends £300k a year trying to keep the place warm – a situation that is financially untenable. The move to the proposed new site, hopefully to be built on the triangular parcel of waste land  sandwiched between Walnut Tree Road, Stonewood Road and Bronze Age Way. The area is crying out for redevelopment and Bexley College would be an excellent choice as the new local resident. It can only benefit Erith as a whole. The students will have much better public transport options than before – the new campus will be bang next to Erith railway station, and only a minutes’ walk from the bus stops in Bexley Road, outside Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. The shops in the centre will benefit from the extra spending power of the nearby students, and the proposed gym, coffee shop and hair and beauty salons on campus will be open to the public – to be honest, I cannot see anybody losing out. To me it seems to be the ideal win / win situation. I notice from the article that the college may be a great influence on Southeastern trains, and their refusal to install a passenger lift at Erith station. Local MP Teresa Pearce has been banging on about this on our behalf for some time, but at present the arguments seem to be falling on deaf ears. If Bexley College get behind the campaign, maybe there is a chance the campaign may take off again.

You may recall that back in January I warned against opting for a “contactless” debit card? I wrote that the security on them was very poor, and that the encryption system the cards use has been compromised. Well, what do you know? Watchdog featured some IT security testers using a smart phone app to automatically siphon off card details whenever the phone came into proximity of a contactless debit card. Don’t tell me I did not tell you it was only a matter of time before this happened. I rejected the contactless card I was sent, and requested a good, old fashioned dumb card for this very reason. I did discover that some banks are automatically sending contactless cards out to customers when their old cards are due to expire, the caveat being that at present this policy only holds true for people within the M25. The banks believe that Londoners are more sophisticated and open to using new technology (read gullible) – utter tosh of course, but bearing in mind the big banks are all based in London, the London centric approach does not really surprise me.

There has been much coverage in the press in the last week of the murder of mathematician and intelligence operative Gareth Williams. Suffice to say I think it very unlikely the full story surrounding his mysterious death will be released for many years to come. This lack of information has led some people to speculation – and in one very clever case, create a website which presents an investigation into the case that is presented as a work of fiction, but actually contains a lot of factual detail. Who would be better to investigate the murder of a spy, whose body was padlocked inside a large sports bag, then placed in the bath, inside a spotless flat, with no sign of a struggle, and the door locked from the inside? Only the World’s greatest detective would be up to the task. Cue “Sherlock Holmes and the Alderney Street Mystery”. A fascinating read, and a very thought provoking approach to a serious and dense mystery.

On a further literary note, Google are running a series of television commercials to promote their Google+ social networking service. The  adverts feature people carrying out various activities with a narrator reciting quotations from Shakespeare’s poem “The Seven Ages of Man”. One of the finest pieces of writing in the English (or for that matter any other) language. The problem is, that the advertising agency who created the commercial have decided to cut the final verse covering the last age of man from the commercial. To my mind this is cultural barbarism. The poem loses all its’ meaning, following as it does human life from birth to death with all of the stages in between. Cutting death from the piece renders the rest incomprehensible. I think Google have dropped a clanger with this. Google did however pick up some geek credibility last Sunday – which unfortunately reached the Maggot Sandwich after it had already gone to press. Google launched a version of its’ popular Google Maps service for 8 – bit computers and games consoles – you can see a video about their development here:

Some viewers did not notice that the release date was April 1st.

A criminal gang (possibly this is grandstanding them a tad – it may be one or two dodgy people) are currently on the radar of the local police. They have found a way to remotely unlock cars that have wireless key locking systems, by using some modified radio equipment – quite possibly a walkie talkie. The gang seem to be operating in the Erith and Northumberland Heath areas. They send random radio signals to parked cars, and any that flash their indicators to show that they are unlocked get raided by the gang members. One of my local news sources got targeted in this way earlier in the week. A full report on the situation can be read on the Erith Watch website here.

Tickets have now gone on sale for the 2012 Chap Olympics. Unlike previous years, the event will be held over two, rather than the usual one day. As their website puts it “This is a significant year for the Chap Olympiad: after years of covertly observing our sporting spectacle, The British Olympic Committee has picked 2012 as the year to stage its copycat event, called simply “The Olympic Games”. Our response is simply to put on a bigger, better Chap Olympiad than ever before. This year’s event, on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th July, will take place over two days in Bedford Square Gardens; Day One will be our usual Chap Olympic Games, including Umbrella Jousting, Swooning, Ironing Board Surfing and Not Playing Tennis, while day two will host the Paralyticolympics, when those barely able to stand will still have their trouser creases and their pipe-smoking technique put to the test. Gold, silver and bronze cravats will be awarded separately on both days, so competitors on either day do not have to attend on both days in order to win prizes. The events on Day Two will differ from those on Day One – though, as usual, performance will be judged principally on maintenance of panache, perfectly knotted ties, stiff upper lips and acceptable (i.e. caddish) levels of skulduggery. On Day Two there will be a special Gin Tent, staffed by nurses trained at the Atters Attree Gout Sanatorium, to assist any contestants who have tested negative for alcohol levels, or those who are feeling a little under the weather and require a top-up.  Sounds like my idea of civilisation! You can read more about the event, and the Chap Magazine by clicking here.

The Government’s proposal to monitor all online activity in real time that was reported this week is both worrying and laughable. Worrying, because it shows that the government wants to emulate China and Iran in policing online use to a micro managed degree. They aspire to total control and monitoring of all UK web and Email users. Laughable as it would be utterly impossible to operate or monitor due to the colossal volumes of data that would pass through every day - thousands of Petabytes of Emails, MP3 files, web logs - you name it. It is just not practicable to capture and record this amount of information - the Internet Service Providers will not want to do it, as the associated costs would seriously impact their business models, and would potentially make them liable for any errors or omissions. GCHQ will not want to do it, as the amount of effort and money it would entail would swamp their day to day activities (and I do not see the government putting their hands in their pockets to foot the bill). I think this one will quietly go away in time.

April 6th marked the 20th anniversary of the first version of the Windows operating system that really made its' mark on the world. On 6th April 1992, Microsoft launched Windows 3.1. This was a long chalk from being the first version of Windows, but it was the first one that became very popular with both the general public, and with businesses who previously had either been using DOS based PC's or very expensive Unix workstations. Until the launch of Windows 95, three years later, Windows 3.1 was the big player - OK it did crash a lot, but when it worked it was good. One of the best applications for Windows 3.1 was the excellent Word 2 - a really feature complete, mature word processor and desktop publishing tool (see the screenshot above) that could teach a lot of modern applications a thing or two about efficient coding. I used to run it on a 486 SX 25 laptop with a mono display - it was an excellent piece of software, which I ran for ages, and only finally upgraded when Word 6 came out - a good application, but bloated in comparison. You can read more about the anniversary of Windows 3.1 by clicking here.

One of my discreet local informants has dug up a real gem of a story. Bexley Council are running a scheme to encourage parents of small children to use real nappies, rather than using disposable ones. On the surface of things this appears to be a laudable idea - disposable nappies take years to break down in land fill sites. The timing of the scheme could hardly be worse, however; as the Government have just enacted hosepipe bans in many parts of the country, including the London Borough of Bexley. I appreciate that modern washing machines are relatively economical and efficient in the use of water, but it seems to me that the council is sending out the wrong message at this time. I don't think anybody has thought it through properly. Non disposable nappies still need a lot of water and a lot of energy to keep clean - I have checked  my facts with a licenced child minder and mother, who confirms my suspicions.

To finish for this week; Jim Marshall, creator of the legendary Marshall range of amplifiers died on Thursday. In way of tribute, here is probably the most famous Marshall stack of them all - the one owned, and demonstrated in the clip below, by Spinal Tap songwriter and guitarist Nigel Tufnel. His Marshall amplifier famously goes up to eleven.

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