Sunday, August 11, 2013

The chip oil bandits.

The photo above shows a new addition to Erith's skyline. It is a tower crane that was erected on the new Bexley College campus building site in Walnut Tree Road this Wednesday. It is pretty impressive. I took the photos above and below on Thursday afternoon, just after the crane had finished being commissioned. By the time you read this it should already be at work. The new college building is scheduled to be completed and open within a year - a very ambitious project for all concerned. I feel that the new college will be a win / win for the students, the college staff, and for Erith in general. I look forward to seeing the building once it is completed.
My photo of the Mambocino coffee shop on last weeks’ update prompted a comment from an anonymous reader. They said that the place is often dominated by people sitting at the outside seats, illegally smoking, even though there are numerous and very visible notices prohibiting it. I have written extensively about this very issue in the past. When Erith Riverside Shopping Centre first opened, it was patrolled by a large and well motivated group of security officers. They ensured that kids did not ride bikes through the centre, people did not use the fire escapes as a means of entering or exiting the building, and first and foremost, the laws prohibiting smoking indoors in a public place were strictly enforced. This was all very well, and for a year or so it was run very well. As with many things, cutbacks were made – the centre operators must have decided that they needed to reduce the operational overheads of the place – after all, many shop units were still un-let, and the income the centre was generating was far less than optimal. In consequence the centre operators got rid of the efficient and enthusiastic security team, and replaced them with a single bloke who was about as much use as Anne Frank’s drum kit. He did not seem to care what people did, and gave the impression he just showed up to collect his pay packet. This sent out all sorts of unfavourable messages to the local low lives, who immediately started abusing the shopping centre. Not long after the reduction in security staff, I personally witnessed a bare chested teenage scrote riding an unlicenced motorised trials bike through the main shopping centre thoroughfare and then down the moving escalator. I would have been gratified if he had been incinerated in a fiery explosion when the bike crashed at the bottom of the escalator, but he made off across Morrison’s car park without a scratch. This lack of supervision and enforcement has had a deleterious effect on the centre as a whole. People smoke throughout the centre – but for some mysterious reason, they tend to congregate under the large and very prominent “No Smoking” signs outside Mambocino. Staff from other shops in the centre even come out to smoke outside of the coffee shop / cafe – it seems to be a social meeting spot. My own opinion is there is very little point in having a law if it is not policed or enforced. The whole smoking in public places ban seems to be treated in a very similar way to the ban on using a mobile telephone whilst driving a vehicle  - a significant percentage of the population seem to think that these laws don’t apply to them.  The fact that the area outside of Mambocino is used to serve food, and has a number of tables provided for the purpose seems to encourage the congregation of smokers even more – the tables even have “No Smoking” signs sellotaped onto the table tops – which just get ignored. I really don’t  know why the shop management don’t stop the practice. It seems to me as an external observer that nobody wants to take ownership of the now long established problem. *Update* - rather than just whinge about the situation here, I contacted the management of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and they have been absolutely excellent.  I Emailed the manager on Monday to complain about the situation with people smoking illegally. By the time I walked through the shopping centre on my way home from work, there were two efficient looking security guards right outside of Mambocino, stopping people from smoking. I also have had a very constructive further detailed exchange of Emails with Barry Owen, the shopping centre manager, and he has been superb; very proactive and positive in his responses to my questions. This was highlighted on Thursday afternoon, when a lady lost control of her car when she was driving along Erith High street, past Potion bar - she ended up hitting a lamp post and writing off her car - photo below- click on it for a larger version. Fortunately nobody was hurt, although the driver was taken to hospital for investigative tests. The Erith Riverside Shopping Centre security guards were first on the scene, and handed control over to the Police and Ambulance Service when they subsequently arrived. I feel that the problems with illegal activities in the shopping centre may well be at an end, but as always, locals need to be on their guard to ensure that things don't slip back into old habits.
If you bank online, use EBay, post onto FaceBook or use a web based Email service like Gmail, you will have used online encryption – the chances are without even being aware of it. When you are on a website that shows a little locked padlock in the address bar, and the site address begins with HTTPS:// instead of the more familiar HTTP:// you are using a secure, encrypted connection that is designed to keep any information travelling across the link secret from hackers and other bad guys. The bad news is that a prominent team of IT security researchers have discovered a potential vulnerability in the two main methods of encryption that are used by most modern computer operating systems and web browsers. These two encryption methods are named RSA and Diffie – Hellman after their inventors. Both systems are underpinned by a mathematical challenge known as a discrete logarithm problem. The problem is astronomically difficult to solve without access to the problems’ unique numerical key. Breaking RSA or Diffie – Hellman encrypted messages today takes vast computational power and a long time. This is one of the things that so occupies the likes of the NSA and GCHQ – their vast supercomputers are used to crack encrypted traffic supposedly between terrorists and criminals (the ethics of this is a debate for another time and place). As far as the person in the street is concerned, an encrypted connection is functionally unreadable without the special key. The security consultants have discovered that it is theoretically possible that a new algorithm could be developed which would make solving the discrete logic problem that encrypts the message much more easy to break.  Security researcher Jarved Samuel said of the situation “we rely on that new, efficient algorithm not being found; if it is found, then the crypto system is broken”. Earlier this year, French academic Anoine Joux published two papers that suggested that  such an algorithm could be found before long. “This is a big deal, since there was marginal progress for 25 years,” said Samuel. “This will spur researchers into looking more closely at the problem and most likely result in more progress. One reason to believe that progress will be swift, says Samuel, is that Joux’s advances weren’t based on inventing completely new techniques. Rather, he applied known tricks that hadn’t previously been used on this specific problem”. What this all boils down to is that we are all relying on some super intelligent hacker NOT creating a new, hyper – clever decryption algorithm to break our up until now very secure online transactions. This does not sound like a very reassuring position to be in. More on this in the future.

The editor of the News Shopper writes a very long piece this week, about an event he had a hand in organising at the George and Dragon pub in Swanscombe. This formerly little known pub was until recently very run down and unloved, until it was taken over by a couple of real ale loving chaps who have set up a microbrewery in the cellars beneath the pub building. The Caveman Brewery went into commercial production at Easter this year, with their first ever brew – Caveman Citra was voted beer of the 2013 Bexley CAMRA Beer Festival. An astonishing feat for a brand new brewery. However talented the brewing team, it normally takes any new brewery a few runs to produce an acceptable beer – equipment needs to “bed in” and the foibles of the individual brewery setup can take a while to learn. It would seem that the guys running the Caveman have unusually managed to hit the ground running. I know when I tried their Citra India Pale Ale, I was exceptionally impressed with it – a hoppy, dry and aromatic pint, and found it very hard to believe that it was a debut brew. Had I not known otherwise, I would have thought that it was a new beer from Shepherd Neame, or another of the top rank real ale brewers. The George and Dragon has been voted as Gravesend CAMRA pub of the year 2013.  This got me to thinking; we have a handful of micro breweries in the area – the aforementioned Caveman in Swanscombe, Millis in Dartford, and the Nelson Brewery in the Chatham Historic Dockyard. On top of this we also are fortunate to have a couple of craft cider makers located relatively nearby. The Big Tree Cider Company are located in Hartley, and make traditional ciders and perries; they won the “Taste of Kent” award for the best cider in the county last year. Another cider maker who is local to the area is the Magic Bus Cider Company, who have their base at Horton Kirby. I have sampled a couple of Magic Bus ciders, and they are excellent – fruity, complex and astringent, and nothing like the kind of chemical laced rubbish you get from the likes of Magners (which calls itself Irish cider, but it is made from Spanish apple pulp, which is then laced with caramel to darken the colour; it is also pumped full of carbon dioxide – please avoid!) Magic Bus ciders tend to be of the sipping variety, as they tend to be rather on the strong side – certainly not the kind of drink you would start with on a long evening out – unless you wanted to be fished out of the Thames later on! Proper cider does tend to have another side –effect: too much of it can have an alarmingly explosive laxative outcome. Be warned!

It is a little over five years since the last video media format war ended, with Sony and Panasonic declaring the victory of their jointly developed Blu-ray format over the rival HD DVD system developed by Toshiba. HD DVD machines disappeared from the shops almost overnight, and the format, which had initially seemed to be so promising, disappeared with remarkable speed.  Sony and Panasonic have recently published a specification for what they say will be the forthcoming disk format to replace Blu-ray. The new disk will store up to 300 Gb of data, which will enable support for full length movies recorded at 4K resolution (four times the current HD video resolution).  This is an important step forward, as 4K televisions are already available on the high street if you look hard enough; the problem with them is that there is currently no native 4K resolution content around to watch; at best you can view upscaled Blu-ray content, but it is hardly the same thing. With Sony and Panasonic working on the new format, which is set to be released in 2015, it may enable the film studios to have yet another cash cow, as movie fans line up to buy films they already own in a new format. A joint announcement was made by the two giant electronics companies which read that they had ” a proven track record in developing Blu-ray Disc format technologies, and by actively promoting the adoption of a new standard for next-generation high-capacity optical discs, they intend to offer solutions that preserve valuable data for future generations”. Translating the corporate – speak reads to me as “"we rule the roost for the moment and may as well set the standard now before anyone else does”. The new disk format is primarily being designed for long term data archiving, rather than for storing movies. In their archiving role, the ultra high capacity disks will come in a cartridge to protect the delicate surface from dust and liquid contamination. It is thought that the latest optical technology should be capable of storing archived data for hundreds of years or longer – this may be moot, when one considers the laser disk. In the mid 1980’s there was a project to digitise the Domesday Book and a system using a laser disk player controlled by an advanced version of the BBC Micro (the Acorn Master) was developed. The system featured an updated version of the Domesday Book which was compiled with information from hundreds of school children from around the country, and was stored on two hybrid 12” digital / analogue disks with a unique format, enabling the disks to store 300 mb per side – a huge amount of data for the time. The problem was that within a very short period of time the non standard proprietary format, and the unique laser disk players went out of production, and after only a handful of years, it was virtually impossible to play back the disks. Two of the only three known original working players are now owned by The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. The BBC joint sponsored a project to web enable the 1986 data, and part of it is now online, although there are significant omissions due to ongoing copyright concerns. You can view the Domesday online website by clicking here. The whole project ended up being a massive technological dead end, and proved embarrassing to most of those involved. The technology was moving far faster than the ability of the project managers to realise it.  This is a problem for any kind of archiving technology – it is all very well having a whizzy, robust and proven storage media format, but if there are no machines capable of playing back the media in years to come, then what exactly is the point?

The local press (News Shopper and Bexley Times) are just reporting a story I wrote about at quite some length several months ago. The story about the utterly dire state of hygiene in the restaurants and takeaways in Bexley has been bubbling along for ages; just this week the News Shopper reported the fact that 33% of food outlets in the Borough have  star ratings that are unsatisfactory (two out of five stars), or worse – something I covered back on the 26th of May.  Bexley has the overall worst food hygiene ratings in the United Kingdom. It is remarkable that Bexley can do so badly – with Erith coming out as the worst area of the worst borough (at least we come out top in one survey!) A borough of comparable size and roughly similar demographic such as Bromley comes out so much better. It does beg the question, just why is there such a disparity in the hygiene ratings? Are both boroughs using the same metrics to measure the hygiene levels, or are the criteria Bexley is using more strict? I suppose that the only real way of measuring future performance is by monitoring poorly rated food outlets to see if they improve.  As previously covered, I think that it should be a legal requirement for a food outlet to display its’ food rating sticker in the front window of the shop, and that the rating would have to be paid for in a similar way to a car tax disk – this would fund the whole inspection and rating system, and take the financial burden off the Environmental Health Department of the Council. Compulsory closure for deep cleaning and other improvements would also be enforced for establishments with less than a three out of five star rating.  All stuff I have said before; I know several council employees (and probably a councillor or two) read the Maggot Sandwich. Hopefully something will come of it, though to be honest, I am not holding my breath.

A new mini crime wave is hitting the local area; restaurants and takeaways are finding that their containers of waste cooking oil are being stolen. Many food outlets use large quantities of cooking oil, which is usually vegetable based. When it has become contaminated, they store it for collection by specialist cooking oil companies, who pay good money to get hold of the oil. Where’s the money on old cooking oil? I hear you ask; well, it makes excellent bio diesel. There is a general perception that cooking oil needs to be specially treated before it can be used in diesel engines. This is actually not true. You can empty a bottle of Mazola or whatever oil you fancy straight into the fuel tank of your diesel vehicle and it will work a treat. The only thing you need to do with old oil is filter out any particles or bits of food – as these can clog up the fuel injectors of the engine. Old fish frying oil actually smells of the chip shop when you burn it in a diesel engine. Some years ago Mercedes Benz commercial vehicle division did some tests on the use of vegetable oil versus conventional diesel in long term use as a fuel. They found that engines run on vegetable oil actually suffered significantly less wear and tear than those run on conventional diesel – this is not much of a surprise, as Vegetable oil is a lubricant, and diesel is a solvent. Vegetable oil has a lower energy density than diesel, so your miles per gallon does drop a bit, but the cost savings are so big that it makes it worthwhile. It is not illegal to power a road vehicle on chip oil, as long as you have  declared it to HM Revenue and Customs, filled in the relevant paperwork and paid the excise duty. Obviously the crooks that are currently nicking cooking oil for use as fuel have no intention of doing that – so if you see some shady looking characters in a van smelling of plaice and chips goes past, be very suspicious...

The ending video this week is an episode from U.S TV series "Good Eats" which features a basic guide to home brewing. I used to be a home brewer, and the episode does leave out a few key stages (for instance, if you don't wash out all of your brewing equipment after sterilising it, the brew will fail, as the yeast will be killed by your disinfectant remaining on the equipment). Other than a few basic flaws of this nature, the show overall gives a very fair introduction to home brewing; It may be an American show, but the beer he makes is a classic British Best Bitter, rather than an insipid lager, as much of commercial U.S beer tends to be. Do watch and leave a comment below. 

1 comment:

  1. " …about as much use as Anne Frank’s drum kit" Is THE BESt phrase I've heard in ages! Hat's off MR.P'! I ask for more pithy similies! Ney, DEMAND it!

    Personally I bet the new Bexley College building will be tatty within 3 to 5 years and needing remedial work. It's a new build using mostly prefabricated parts, it'll look great till it starts to get used. Have you seen what the preposals are:

    All the charm of two shoe boxes gaffer taped together. Horrible.
    I liked the old building as although it was terribly 60's high rise it had wonderful views and I think looked...important.

    I think the problem with Erith Shopping Centre and smoking is that parts of it you can smoke in as far as I know (the orginal run of shops from Harrisons Chemists on the corner to Argos at the other end) but not outside the Cafe, Wilkinsons etc. I'm always plesantly surprised at how not rundown the place is. I expecetd it to be used and abused when it first opened but congratulations to the Management and staff as it's kept clean, tidy and well maintained.

    So when is The Maggot Sandwich taking a trip to the Caveman Brewery?
    I know it's alittle out of your sphere but it is the nearest local brewery so would love to see a more indepth article.
    I had the misfortune of hvaing a Magners "summer" "fruit" the other week. Bloody hell it's bad. Chemical with a hint of Happy Shopper cordial. The ice was the nicest thing in the glass.

    Another Home Media Format War?
    Another Home Media Format??
    Too be honest i gave up on Home Media when DVD's came out. The quality is fine, you get a few extras (something thats lacking recently) and it saves space on the shelves. I was an earlish adopter of Smart TV so I can stream on put content on a USB so have never bothered with Blu-Ray and infact have absolutly 0 interest in "new formats" (I've still got burnt fingers from adopting Micro-disc over MP3 Player in the early 00's, I still say it wa a great format and pleasingly reminsant of having a Walkman and I almost bought a Zip Drive but I digress...) as to me they are just a way to sell you $hit you alrerady have. At least with DVD it was a big jump in quality from VHS but I fail to see how a a Blu-Ray of say Star Wars is that much of a jump again in quality apart from "Ooooh look I can see 4 extra buttons in the Mellenuim Falcon's cockpit". I'm interested in the content primarily, anything else is window dressing.
    I got to play with the Doomsday discs when i was at school.
    It was like being given the keys to the Headmasters Aston. The main thing I rember thinking was the amazing ability to FIND content with the press of a button and how annoying it was to try and read stuff on the screen. I seem to remeber the fonts were quite small and it wasn't laid out like a book so quite difficult to read. I rember I was trusted enough to actually handle and load the discs!