Sunday, November 04, 2012

Farewell to the Beast.

The photo above shows the mural of a Thames sailing barge painted on the side wall of the building that houses the Potion Bar - a place I have written about in great lengths in the past; suffice to say that in my opinion the only favourable aspect of the place is the mural itself; the bar, a significant number of its' patrons and the noxious and gassy lager it sells, really should not be housed in what remains of a grade II listed building that has been utterly wrecked by the un - sanctioned architectural modifications that have been made to the structure.

Apologies that many of you did not receive an Email confirmation of the publication of this weeks' Maggot Sandwich update. There has been a very good reason which I will elucidate a little further down this post; meanwhile please read on...

Now that the weather has taken a decided turn for the colder, and the clocks have gone back, it really feels like we are in the early run – up to Christmas; not I am a particular fan of the Yule festival as I have written in the past. One thing that does seem to happen more now we have hit colder weather is something that intensely annoys me. Spitting in the street; it is unhygienic and an offence, as well as being disgusting. It seems to be a particular bad habit that has become more widespread in the last few years. Whilst this revolting practice is mainly undertaken by men, I have see women doing it too – only last week I saw a girl of eighteen or so have a huge hockle onto the pavement outside of Matalan in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, between heavy drags on what looked suspiciously like a joint. Nobody ever seems to challenge this behaviour, probably as they are worried that they could end up getting stabbed, like the unfortunate man and his dog did last Tuesday, when a man walking his dog was assaulted and stabbed in Avenue Road, Erith. Fortunately both man and dog survived, and the local constabulary have a suspect in custody you can read more about the worrying case here.

One thing which coincides with this incident is the recent announcement that Bexley Police will be getting tasers during November. Previously in the Borough only SO19 firearms units were permitted to carry the devices, but with successful general deployment in other outer London Boroughs, it has been judged the right time to introduce them – personally anything that removes a violent offender from the streets has got to be a good thing; besides which, it will not be ordinary rank and file officers being equipped with tasers on a day to day basis – it will still be specially trained coppers in patrol cars, so not really very much difference from SO19 in reality. Something like eighty percent of incidents involving tasers end up with the stun gun not actually being used, as the sight of the drawn weapon is enough to subdue most bad guys.

What is even more worrying is that we are going to have a long period of disruption to Accident and Emergency services, as the current South London Healthcare Trust is to be dissolved and a new organisation put in its’ place. Part of this will involve closing Lewisham Hospital’s Accident and Emergency department and increasing cover at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich. To be honest, the end results could have been a lot worse – I think many local residents, myself included, were concerned that the financial review was going to be a hatchet job, which fortunately would appear not to be the case. One factor worth considering in respect of the review of local hospital services is something that tends to get widely overlooked. In the past local hospitals tended to revolve around the Accident and Emergency department – pretty much every hospital would have such a unit, and in general the public have an expectation that a local A and E will be present. The big change since when I was a child is in the ambulance service – back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the ambulance crew were just that – the ambulance was little more than a van with a siren and a trolley stretcher in the back, and the ambulance driver was just that – he (as then it was invariably a man) would scoop up the accident victim and drive them at speed to the nearest A and E unit for treatment. Nowadays ambulances are like mobile operating theatres, and the paramedics are highly trained medical professionals who undertake much of the treatment previously done only in A and E. They provide a level of diagnosis and primary treatment undreamed of three decades ago. Much of the role of A and E, whilst not becoming redundant (you will still get walking wounded) is now reduced from days of yore. On an emotional level it would be nice to have an A and E unit in every hospital, the reality is that it makes sense to reduce the number of emergency hospitals, but increase the A and E resources accordingly in bigger hospitals to make them “centres of excellence”. Of course, a lot of this is rooted in cost cutting, but it can also be used as a method of improving standards.

Whilst researching for this weeks' update, I found the following time lapse video of the construction of the controversial (for some people) Erith Wind Turbine. The video was shot by the company that constructed it. Have a view and feel free to post a comment below.

My admiration for satellite channel Sky Arts HD continues. It really has in my mind outstripped the BBC in its’ transmission of high quality arts and culture programming. Sky has until recently had a rather popularist and some might say low brow programming output, but this has definitely changed. For example, on Monday evening they showed an unedited hour long interview with Sir Terry Pratchett, recorded at the 2012 Hay Festival in front of a large audience. The interview was in depth, and was hosted by Pratchett’s personal assistant. If this programme had been transmitted on BBC 2, it would have been heavily trailed in the week or so before transmission, and would have been also featured on the BBC’s Culture Show. As it was, I stumbled across the programme on the Sky interactive guide, only moments before it was due to begin. Sky could do more to promote this excellent, culturally diverse channel; it really is outstanding.

The reason for a lack of Email announcement of this weeks' Maggot Sandwich update is due to the fact I normally send the Email from my Apple iMac using the Mail application - which has my "mailing list" on it. I have a couple of web based Email accounts, but rarely use them - I still prefer to use an old fashioned locally installed POP Email application. On Thursday morning I was checking my mail on the Mac when it suddenly farted and burped, then gave a terminal error message that appeared on screen. After some checking it became evident that the hard drive had abruptly failed. I have everything backed up (I use the Time Machine utility to take an incremental back up every ten minutes onto an external drive), but the iMac is a basket case - one of the down sides of Apple ownership is that swapping out failed components is far more tricky than on a PC. The Mac was four and a half years old, and had not given so much as a hiccup until now. My iMac (nick named "The Beast") is being replaced by the new model iMac when it is released in December. In the meantime I am using my Linux mini netbook linked up to a spare 24" widescreen monitor, USB keyboard and mouse that I had lying about. It is a bit slow and clunky, but it will have to do until The Beast 2.0 arrives just before Christmas.

Did you know that the Royal Mint have plans to redesign the ten pound note? Apparently there are plans in place to remove Charles Darwin’s image from the back of the note; consultations are currently under way to determine who should replace him. An online petition has been started to get Alan Turing’s image on the new tenner; so far nearly 25,000 people have backed this, though to be fair, other people slated for possible inclusion on the note are David Beckham, Princess Diana, Jonny Wilkinson, John Cleese, Terry Wogan and aforementioned Terry Pratchett (who says I don’t plan these things!) The decision as to which noteworthy person will be included on the redesigned bank note will not be made until late Spring 2013, so you still have time to make your vote. Personally I think Alan Turing would have been horrified at the thought of appearing on the back of a bank note; he was a shy and retiring man.

The press seem to have gone James Bond mad over the last couple of weeks, as the publicity juggernaut for “Skyfall” lumbered into action. Much has been made of the Daniel Craig reboot, of which I don’t think I need to add to the column inches – enough has already been written on the subject. I went to see the film last night, and in my opinion it is utterly stunning - easily in the best two or three Bond movies ever, and incredibly clever in the way that "old" Bond and the reboot have been brought full circle. I would urge you to go and see "Skyfall" at your earliest opportunity, if you have not already done so. What I do find fascinating is the Bond producers continual use of the Walther PPK as Bond’s handgun of choice. To be honest, the Walther PPK is little more than a glorified spud gun; it is under powered, has a small magazine capacity, and is prone to frequent jamming. As some may know, prior to the 1997 handgun ban, I was a volunteer range master and shooting instructor at the then Stone Lodge Ranges at Dartford. The photo above shows me shooting my polymer framed Glock 17 combat pistol on the range - if you look closely, you can see the slide fully retracted, microseconds after me firing a shot, and the newly emptied 9mm cartridge case is flying out of the ejection port - the case is about ten inches above my wrist in the photo - thanks for (now) Lt. Col Steve Fraser for taking the photo. Over the years that I was a member of a shooting club that used the range, I got to fire quite a large variety of different firearms, including the Walther PPK, and I can honestly say it was amongst the worst weapons in my experience. It employs a little used cartridge called a 9mm short (.380 calibre in the US) which uses less smokeless powder than the “full fat” 9mm Parabellum NATO standard round, and is thus has markedly reduced stopping power. The PPK has a worrying tendency to jam unless it is kept scrupulously clean – many a time I had to order a stop to shooting as a club member with a PPK had a stoppage, usually due to a failure for a round to feed correctly usually caused by fouling in the receiver, or by the weak magazine spring not pushing the round upwards with sufficient force. All in all the PPK is about the last side arm Bond would use in reality. I would have thought a modern 9mm pistol such as a Glock 19 - (the compact version of the Glock 17 I used to own) would have been far more suitable. More on Bond at the end of this update.

Halloween nowadays seems like a much bigger festival than when I was a child. I can recall a couple odd cod – spooky children’s TV shows, but that was about that. Nowadays the number  of costumes and accessories available even in local supermarkets is just mind boggling; last Saturday the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre had a Halloween themed event that you can read about here. Although the original idea behind Halloween came from Ireland, it only took off in a big way when emigrants from there entered America, and with usual American enthusiasm, the holiday became far bigger and more prominent there. It strikes me that Halloween in the UK only really started to become a major festival in 1982, upon the release of the movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial” where much of the plot revolves around a group of children “trick or treating”. The film was of course a massive hit, and the idea of British children dressing up at Halloween really seems to have taken off from this point. Of course, the idea of small children knocking on strangers doors at night has now become something of a no – no, for obvious reasons; to me it always seemed to be something unfamiliar and non – British, and I am not sad to see the back of it. Still, (older) kids at Halloween parties has provided material for the latest execrable British Telecom TV commercial – one that to me rivals the recent Spanish visitors advert for utter toe curling awfulness – you may recall I whinged in detail about that advert a few weeks ago, and I had several readers contact me to agree with my opinion. The new one involves the same, very contrived group of students, with their unfeasibly neat and tidy apartment to a fancy dress party at another student flat – the only thing is, the other students don’t have fibre optic broadband and are having trouble downloading music for the festivities. Cutting to the chase, the BT students invite their friends back to their place – ostensibly to enjoy the fast download speed that BT  fibre optic broadband offers. To say it is toe – curlingly awful, badly acted and wrong on multiple levels is really to under – sell it. I am sure that you will come across it soon, if it is not already seared onto your memory. The irony is, that BT do offer a very good, if pricey fibre optic product; I should know, I was the first person to get it on the Slade Green telephone exchange. I was connected the week before BT Infinity was officially launched. It is fast and reliable, albeit expensive.

There was great bally – hoo as EE launched the UK’s first 4G mobile phone service on Tuesday in limited areas of the country. 4G promises faster download speeds for web pages and streaming video content; one thing it won’t do (at present anyway) is offer voice calls. All 4G capable phone handsets at present are unable to support VOIP over 4G, when you get a phone call, you hear a short pause and a click as the phone switches to 3G mode using a technology called Circuit Switched Fall Back (CSFB) to take the call. Once the voice call is over, the phone will switch back to 4G mode automatically. The current problem with all 4G capable phones is that their batteries get utterly knackered when in 4G mode – the reason for this is the phone’s processor has to work a hell of a lot harder to decode the high speed 4G data stream; each 4G phone has a total of seven separate antennas built into its’ case, and the processor needs to juggle the signal input from each one – not an easy task. Consequently until processor chips are optimised for 4G, one can expect poor battery life. The irony is that a new, much higher speed version of 3G is quietly being rolled out by other operators which will offer nearly all the advantages of 4G at a cheaper price. Dual Channel HSPA+ has been pioneered by Three, and offers 15 Mbps consistently where there is a strong signal. It also does not suffer the restrictive data caps currently set by EE’s 4G offering (though I suspect that EE will relax the caps once the public realise how draconian they are). You can read more about the whole situation, and why 4G is not worth bothering with for at least another year by clicking here.

This weeks' video is a very clever mash - up of clips of all of the actors who have played James Bond in a fictional "death match" against each other - if you have seen the Sky Movies trailer that apparently shows all the Bonds in a car chase with each other, then this is similar, but in my opinion, superior. Watch and see what you think, and leave a comment below if you feel like it. 

1 comment:

  1. Spitting - ughh! I grew up when TB was still rampant and there were numerous mobile chest x-ray units around.

    My brother as a small child in the late 30's, fell over and grazed his knee - and the TB in the spit he had probably fallen on gave him TB of the bones - dozens of operations, acute disability and around 16 years in various TB sanatoriums followed.

    There was no treatment initially - except fresh air! The units were like long Nissan huts with doors left open all year round and one blanket each...

    When tetracycline, in little understood doses, started to be used, many of his fellow patients died of the treatments.

    My - selfish - view as a young child was annoyance that he had my sweet ration!