Sunday, May 12, 2013

Then and now.

The photos above show part of Erith High Street, looking East. The first photo was taken at Easter 1981 by me as part of a school project on the River Thames; the second photo was taken by me late last year, and shows a very similar view, albeit with a far higher resolution and with a wider angle lens. As can be seen, the road has not changed dramatically in the intervening years; The fisherman's cottages have been sympathetically restored and now form part of the sheltered housing scheme that has been built behind the old Police station - which itself is now decommissioned and converted into private flats.  The shops to each side of the restored cottages were demolished to make entrance and exit roads to the main part of the riverside sheltered housing block. Other than that, and the increased shrubbery in the Riverside Gardens, there is not a lot of change, all things considered.

The only relatively local music festival  - the Paddock Wood Hop Farm Festival has been cancelled this year, citing poor ticket sales. I think the problem has been twofold – one, people are cutting back on their discretionary spending due to the dodgy economic climate, and secondly (and to my mind more tellingly) the bill of performers was pretty poor when compared to previous years. I think this could well put the entire future of the Hop Farm Festival in doubt; the organisers have really had a big dent put in their credibility. In previous years there were performers like Prince, Peter Gabriel, The Eagles, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Morrissey. This year the line up was to have included relatively unknown bands including My Bloody Valentine and The Horrors – hardly headline grabbing acts at the best of times. The festival has hat its’ critics since it began in 2008, mainly due to the perception that the organisation and planning of the event has been poor. The practice of selling a load of tickets for a one day event, then adding a second day (with the need for the purchase of an additional ticket some weeks after the delivery of the first) was something that was often cited by critics. The service infrastructure at the venue was also not always up to scratch; in 2010 there was a complete failure in the drinking water supply, which in any case had been a hose feeding a single tap – hardly adequate for a crowd of around 30,000 visitors. Whether the festival will return next year I don’t know. If they do give it another try, they really need to tighten up their organisation, and also book a couple of big name acts to bring in the punters.

Talking of local events, it will not be too long before the annual Erith Riverside Festival, which is taking place in June; I fervently hope that the weather is better than last year, when gales and torrential rain made the event a bit of a wash – out, which was a real pity as it is normally an excellent event, which attracts a big crowd. You can see some photos from previous Riverside Festivals by clicking here and here. If you get the opportunity to go along, I would strongly recommend that you do so; it is a great day out, as long as the weather stays fine. More details on this years’ event as soon as the information becomes available.

An Apple 1 computer from 1976 is going on sale by auction next week; it is one of an estimated fifty or so still working models thought to be in existence. Interest in all things Apple remains at a high, and this first Apple product is now worth a fortune. It is thought that the reserve price on the model being sold is somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million US Dollars. An Apple 1 with a hand written letter from Steve Jobs, and a signed motherboard by Steve Wozniak sold last year for a little over $400,000! I think that this is about as high as a home computer will ever sell for. There is a widely believed myth that the Apple 1 was the World’s first home computer. I can dispel this – it was not. A year prior to the Apple 1 being released, the MITS Altair 8800 was on general sale in both kit and ready built form. The Altair was a stunning piece of electronic and mechanical engineering, and very much ahead of its’ time. If you have seen the classic 80’s movie “War Games”, the computer the protagonist uses to unwittingly break into the US defence computer network was a IMSAI 8080, a very early clone of the  Altair 8800, though the things the computer did in the film were way past the relatively limited powers of the machine – such is the way with Hollywood! The Altair was more at home playing the original Star Trek video game – if you had it connected to a suitable monitor and keyboard. More on the Star Trek game later.
Back on my update on the 10th of March, called “Kebabs and College” I noted with dissatisfaction that not only were all of the fast food takeaways in and around Erith of a very poor standard in hygiene (the exception being McDonald’s and KFC, both of which got a 5 out of 5 star “scores on the doors” rating). But that the kebab shops were the very worst offenders of all. I also wrote a piece about the Yildiran in West Street – a kebab shop of incredible popularity, not least with the local Police and emergency services, who seem to use the place as an informal canteen. I know that it is the only kebab outlet that many locals will use. Since I wrote the piece, the Yildiran has now had a visit from the “Scores on the Doors” health inspectors and the results are really not good; it only managed to score a one star out of a possible five. This is extremely disappointing. I really thought that the place would do better; it just goes to show that you cannot tell all you need to know about a shops’ level of food hygiene by simply looking at it. With any luck it will be a wakeup call to the owners and staff – I get the feeling that their trade will dive if the knowledge of the terrible health rating becomes widespread. Once again, I really think that any food outlet scoring lower than a three out of five possible stars should have immediate sanctions taken on them to enforce a close down and deep clean, plus compulsory staff training in safe food storage and preparation. The trouble seems to be that Bexley Council’s environmental health department seem to be essentially toothless. They seem to have just enough staff to carry out the initial shop inspections, but not enough to carry out any enforcement actions. One thing about the whole “Scores on the Doors” rating system is that prior to the inspectors turning up at a food retailer, the proprietors are sent a detailed questionnaire document which they have to complete. Many people find these documents very dense and difficult to understand – and this must be doubly so if English is not your first language. I wonder if the non – completion of this questionnaire may skew the inspection results, as from what I have been told, if the form is not completed, it negatively affects the overall inspection score. If anyone knows, please drop me a line. One scam being run by a couple of local restaurants when they get an awful hygiene rating is very simple, but actually very effective. They change the name of the place. This has very recently happened to the Wazobia restaurant in Pier Road, which rated zero stars, as you can see from the screen grab above. Very suddenly it changed its' name to "K-Spice" though it appears to be run by the same people. On top of this it has a licencing application submitted, requesting that it be allowed to serve alcohol until 1.30am from Monday to Sunday each week. Bearing in mind the restaurant is located below some residential flats, I think it somewhat doubtful that the Council will agree to this, and certainly not so very late at night. Time will tell. 

Google Glass seem to have been polarising public opinion. Whilst only fifty or so pre – production pairs of the enhanced reality glasses have been released to technical journalists and software developers, the impact seems to have been disproportionately large. Virtually any TV or radio show with any interest in technology has featured them; I reckon that Google’s marketing people realised that they could garner a whole load of free publicity by releasing the beta version of the forthcoming finished product to a handful of movers and shakers, and indeed this does seem to have been the case.  I have heard both good and bad comments being made to the whole Google Glass concept. The one that made me laugh out loud was the person who wondered if Glass will become the “Sinclair C5 for the head”. I know what they mean; is it too soon for a wearable computer to take off? I for one don’t know, but it will be interesting to see who buys them when the full retail version comes onto the market in the autumn – the price point will be a major factor in the popularity or otherwise of the product.

I was working from home last Wednesday, as I had a number of long conference calls scheduled. Lengthy telephone conversations whilst sitting in a crowded and noisy open plan office are difficult at the best of times, and it made more sense for me to have the calls in the peace and quiet of my dedicated office in Pewty Acres. Halfway through the morning, I heard the loud whine of a gas turbine engine, and thought “I wonder if it is the Air Ambulance again?” Close but not quite; it was the Police in a very similar type of helicopter. The chopper few over my house a couple of times before heading towards the Larner Road Estate. A few minutes later I heard emergency service sirens from the direction of the estate, but saw nothing. Mystified, I returned to work. Later that afternoon I found out that two World War II era suspected explosive devices had been discovered by the demolition contractors at Larner Road. According to the News Shopper (who were very quick to report the incident) the two “bombs” found on the site were actually inert practice rounds originally used for training purposes. Nevertheless it must have been a bit of a shock for the digger driver and the site workers. What amazes me is that not more wartime bombs are found during local building works. During World War 2, the areas both North and South of the River Thames were heavily bombed, almost to the end of the war. Not only did the area house many war related industries and manufacturing facilities (and thus legitimate bombing targets), but the river itself was used as a main navigational pointer towards London. After all, as long as a Nazi pilot could navigate across the English Channel and find the Thames Estuary, all he then had to do was follow the river until he came to London. A bit of a giveaway really. An interesting and somewhat quirky historical fact related to the wartime bombing came to light a couple of years ago when I was having some work done to install a new garden fence. My builder had to dig holes for the new fence posts; he had brought a compact electrical Kango breaker drill with him. After more than an hour of drilling, he had only made a relatively small dent in the ground. Frustrated, he disappeared for half an hour to visit a local plant hire shop. When he returned, he was armed with an enormous breaker that looked like it could take out a main battle tank at five hundred metres! Even with this vastly more powerful tool, it still took him an hour or so to drill half a dozen holes. It turned out that the bottom of my garden had a layer of reinforced concrete well over eighteen inches deep, which covered an extensive area. It turned out to be the roof of an underground, wartime bomb shelter. After some research at the Bexleyheath Local Studies Centre, I discovered that the cast concrete Mulberry Harbours which were floated over the channel to aid the 1944 invasion of Normandy were constructed on the River Thames at Erith (hence the local road named “Mulberry Way”). Many of the workers who constructed the harbours were former brick workers (prior to the war, Erith’s largest product was building bricks, which were exported all over the world, and helped to build the Empire).  The concrete to construct the harbour elements was imported from the USA by ship, and local labour mixed and poured it. During the war, the maximum thickness of concrete permitted for an underground air raid shelter was four inches, as concrete was under ration. Apparently the workers would take wheel barrow loads of mixed but still liquid concrete home to reinforce their shelters – and this is what my builder had discovered! From what I can gather, the management turned a blind eye to the practice, and it was regarded as being a perk of the job. I can understand management allowing this – after all, your workers are not much use if they have been blown up by a bomb. An interesting local story.
Another River Thames related story has surfaced this week; it is something that really seems to polarise opinion. Transport for London have now published the results of the consultation on South East London residents preferences for a new river crossing. The results quite strongly indicate that people prefer the idea of a fixed crossing, rather than an additional ferry service. The figures reported by the Bexley Times unfortunately don’t make any sense. According to them 51% of survey respondents said that they would prefer a ferry, whilst 71% preferred a fixed crossing such as a bridge. These figures sound like something from the election results of a banana republic. I for one cannot work out how 122% of the respondents can have responded, or are I missing something? Suffice to say, whatever the percentages, it would appear that the bridge option is liked by a greater number of people. As I have written before, I am ambivalent about the whole additional crossing project; unlike fellow local blogger Darryl Chamberlain, who is vehemently against any addition to the local transport infrastructure that will increase the number of cars travelling through South East London and North Kent, I can see the benefits to the economy that better physical communications links would potentially bring.  My own issue is more concerned with the geographic location of any new service. The proposed Silvertown to Gallions Reach site has a couple of problems that I have outlined before – the bridge would need to be higher than 15 metres to permit river traffic to pass underneath – which would not be permitted as it is less than a kilometre from London City Airport, and the south side of the proposed crossing would feed into the residential area of Gallions Reach – a very sleepy backwater of a place which is also the location of a large residential nursing home which I know very well, as my Dad spent the last six and a half years of his life living there. A combination of dense housing and a nursing home located on the doorstep of the southern side of the proposed crossing does not make a good combination, and I am sure that residents would be up in arms once the story gets out.  The trouble with any new civil development in greater London is there will always be someone who is inconvenienced – due to the population density. People are already virtually living in each others’ pockets, and any changes will cause inevitable friction. The other pressure is that any crossing further downriver will become more expensive as the river widens quite dramatically – at Erith it is nearly half a mile wide, for example. The closer to the centre of London, the shorter the distance to span, but the greater the disruption to residents. It is a balancing act I am glad I am not having to manage.

With the latest movie in the Star Trek franchise being on release right now, it put my thoughts back to the dim and distant past of playing the original Star Trek computer game on both the Commodore PET and the Research Machines 380Z 8 bit micro computers in the computer room of what was then known as Picardy School in the very early 80’s. Star Trek was originally written in 1971 on a Sigma 7 mainframe computer operated by the University of California by a chap called Mike Mayfield. The story goes that he was not actually a student at the university, but managed to get a mainframe user account anyway, by (in his words) “less than legitimate means”. Anyway, shortly thereafter he was asked to port the game onto a Hewlett Packard mainframe by some HP engineers. The game got bundled on paper tape with each HP mainframe installation and thus made its’ way into the public domain. In later years, the code was copied and re – written for pretty much every kind of computer system around. When the home computer boom of the 1980’s began, the game was re – named because of copyright problems with Paramount – who by this point were extremely sensitive to any threats to the then burgeoning franchise. Apple wrote a version for the Apple II, which was (no that imaginatively) called Apple Trek. From then on the BASIC programming code for Trek based games got published in magazines like the once ubiquitous Computer and Video Games and it was ported to pretty much any piece of kit that was capable of running a version of BASIC. I would say that it was probably the most ported application ever. The game was relatively simple adaptation of the classic Battleship; the game was addictive and easy to modify. To be honest, there were so few computer games available when Star Trek started doing the rounds, that anything quarter decent was going to be wildly successful as then proved to be the case.

To continue the Star Trek theme, and to end this weeks' update, here is a video from a very popular online cook from Australia; he's preparing a special Lobster Risotto which is a favourite dish of William  Shatner, the actor better known as Captain Kirk. Watch and enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. The consultation on river crossings wasn't an either/or question - it had separate questions. So on one question 51% said they wanted a ferry, and another % didn't and another % wasn't sure. For the other question regarding a bridge 71% wanted a bridge with the rest of the 29% split between don't knows and no. The results break it down by brough. Bexley council are still peddling the lie that people don't want it despite results showing every borough does have a large majority for a bridge including Bexley, and that's because it's cut off! No tube, limited rail, and business suffers and leisure options are limited. Darryl from 853 blog is against a tunnel at Silvertown and not a crossing at Thamesmead I think.

    A bridge is not beyond the wit of man, and I do think the best option. A ferry is a rubbish solution really - so many things can go wrong with one (fog, tides, engines packing up as at Woolwich etc), plus its slow and buses couldn't use it reliably, and would shut in the evenings. A prominent architect (could have been Terry Farrell?) recently suggested a large lifting bridge along the same lines as tower bridge. It needn't lift from the river bank but a central section. I also don't think it's impossible to have a design that can allow boats below and flights above. The problems before were with road approaches (which could be mitigated via restrictions, tolls etc and not the design.

    Is the housing that dense? Plans have been on the board for decades, and a big swath of Thamesmead has been left undeveloped for a crossing which can be seen on google maps. Wouldn't have much sympathy for residents - its been known about and in the public domain for so long. Its like people living near football stadiums complaining of noise.