Sunday, June 22, 2014

Erith Park - a preview.

Local rail travellers and regular commuters will have noticed the level of construction activity between Abbey Wood and Plumstead station has ramped up markedly in the last few weeks. The first actual impact to travellers took place last weekend when the first of a series of weekend complete line closures took place. I was travelling from Erith to Greenwich on my way to Canary Wharf on Monday morning; as the train left Abbey Wood and headed towards Plumstead it did so at little more than walking pace. The reason soon became apparent. Over the course of the weekend, two additional sets of rails had been partly laid, and the track area widened considerably to allow overland and Crossrail services to operate side by side. The London bound overland train was running on a new set of tracks that had been laid only hours earlier. Bearing in mind the section of the North Kent Line has been a single track in each direction since it was originally laid in 1847, this is the biggest change to the overall design since the line was electrified in June 1926. What amazed me was that most passengers were utterly oblivious to the changes taking place outside of their carriage windows. Almost to a person they kept their gaze on their mobile telephones or newspapers. I do the commute into and out of London an average of four days a week (I work from home most Fridays), but even so I am not so jaded as to ignore my surroundings, especially when the changes are so widespread and historic. This kind of behaviour is what the Royal Marines call “a lack of situational awareness”, and it seems to be widespread – another reason why personally I have no use for a mobile phone, let alone a smart phone. Over the next few months, the current 1970’s era Abbey Wood station will be demolished and replaced with a temporary building on the opposite side of the tracks. Work will be carrying on until 2017, so travellers will have a long time to get used to things. Click on the photo above to see a larger view on the work; the shot was kindly supplied by Bexley is Bonkers webmaster Malcolm Knight; he took the photo on Wednesday from the Eynsham Drive road bridge, looking East towards Abbey Wood station. You can clearly see the new London bound track bending to the right of the photo. Please leave comments below, or alternatively Email me at

I am so grateful that nowadays we have multi channel television. In the past I have despaired during the World Cup, as it appeared that the main channels were dominated by the football competition, though nowadays at least there is a lot more choice. I am not anti football or the World Cup, I just have absolutely no interest in the whole thing. I really cannot understand the fascination of watching twenty grown men chasing around after an inflated pig’s bladder for ninety minutes, then jumping in the bath together. Still, as my mantra goes “if it works for you”.

For the first time ever, the analysts at a German security vendor have discovered a smart phone that comes with extensive spyware straight from the factory. The malware is disguised as the Google Play Store and is part of the pre-installed Android apps. The spyware runs in the background and cannot be detected by users. Unbeknownst to the user, the smart phone sends personal data to a server located in China and is able to covertly install additional applications. This makes it possible to retrieve personal data, intercept calls and online banking data, read emails and text messages or control the camera and microphone remotely. The spy function is invisible to the user and cannot be deactivated. This means that online criminals have full access to the smart phone and all personal data. Logs that could make an access visible to the users are deleted directly. The program also blocks the installation of security updates. The affected model "Star N9500" is produced by the Chinese manufacturer Star and looks very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S4. It is not possible to remove the manipulated app and the spyware since they are integrated into the firmware. Large online retailers are still selling the Android device at prices ranging from 130 to 165 Euros and distributing it across Europe. The cheap price, ranging from 130 to 165 Euros (around £150) comes as a surprise, considering the high technological standard of the device. The quad-core smart phone is supplied with extensive accessories, such as a second battery, car charging adapter and second cover. Comparable devices from well-known brands such as Samsung, HTC and Apple cost almost three times that much when bought off - contract.  Security experts think that the low price of the mobile device is made possible by the subsequent selling of data records stolen from the smart phone owner. There really is no such thing as a free (or cheap) lunch. The Star N9500 is starting to turn up on various EBay stores, and other discount tech websites. Needless to say I would strongly advise you to avoid such devices, as they will bring no end of grief.

If you are a long time Maggot Sandwich reader, you may be aware that there is a loose collaboration between local Bloggers; we occasionally share information that we feel would be of interest to the readers of other blogs. This week Charlton based blogger Darryl Chamberlain (the author of the excellent 853 blog) has uncovered a story which is certain to make the London Evening Standard in a day or so. Darryl is a “proper” journalist, and has uncovered a number of important and newsworthy stories over the last few years. Naturally his main area of interest is the Charlton and Woolwich area (what used to be covered by the old 853 dialling code – hence his blog title). He’s been featuring a story about the Greenwich peninsular, which is currently the target for property developers such as Barratt, who are building as many flats and houses on the former industrial areas of the peninsular as quickly as they can.  The Greenwich Peninsula is also home to a building that has huge historical, scientific and engineering importance, yet is now virtually unknown. Enderby House, and the nearby Enderby Wharf where from the 1850’s to the 1970’s the home of undersea telecommunications cable manufacturing. The very first intercontinental communications technology was created and manufactured on the site; The first telegraph cable to France was laid in 1850 after tremendous efforts to find technologies that worked. Until 1970s the cable was made here in Greenwich and loaded onto cable-laying ships moored on the riverside using the equipment that is still in place on the shore today. Enderby House became crucial to the history of the world’s communications after the Atlantic Telegraph Company was set up in 1856 to provide a telegraph link between the old and new worlds. Initially the cables were used to carry Morse Code signals for the fledgling telegraph industry; later voice and teleprinter data capability was added; nowadays the world’s data networks are run by millions of miles of high capacity fibre optic cable - which was invented by a Hong Kong born British / American citizen called Dr. Charles Kao. He attended Woolwich Polytechnic, and in the 1960’s invented the entire field of fibre optic data transmission technology, without which the modern high speed Internet would be impossible. Charles Kao and his work in the pioneering field of optical digital communications gained him a number of awards, including a Knighthood, and the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics. His cables were made and then were wound onto giant drums at Enderby Wharf, where they were then loaded onto cable laying ships, ready to be laid on the sea bed of the world’s oceans. The Enderby Wharf factory made 82% of the world’s undersea cable until the late 1950’s when other manufacturing facilities took on a greater role. There is still a factory owned by Alcatel Lucent on the site behind Enderby House, but now it only makes undersea cable switching and control gear, rather than the cables themselves, which are now manufactured at other locations. Enderby House has been sold by Alcatel Lucent to Barratt’s, and is now in a very shabby and damaged state; the empty building, though listed, has been repeatedly vandalised by local knuckle dragging morons. If nobody intervenes, it is highly likely that Barratt’s will petition to get the historic building de – listed; they would then be able to demolish it to make way for yet more yuppie housing.  A campaign has been started to preserve Enderby House and the adjacent Wharf and to turn them into a museum of telecommunications. Barratt have already demolished most of the undersea cable winding section of the factory, and more is likely to go soon. If you would like to become involved in the campaign to preserve the birthplace of wired worldwide communications, and the technology that gave birth to the Internet, you can join the campaign group by clicking here. Thanks to Darryl Chamberlain for bringing this story into the public domain.

Another new African church is opening in Erith. The flyer above came through my door earlier in the week; it was well printed on high quality heavyweight card and was given a glossy finish. They obviously cost a great deal of money to produce and distribute. The Household of Faith Ministry is just the latest in a long line of local churches to announce their formation. I wonder if the number of African churches in the local area is reaching saturation point? There has been a large advert on one of the hoardings beside the infamous fish roundabout at the junction of Bronze Age Way, Bexley Road and Queens Road. The Gateway Chapel certainly have bought themselves some very high profile publicity; they are based on the Optima Park industrial estate in Crayford, just around the corner from the Caterham Cars factory, along with the Ambassadors for Christ, who also have an industrial unit used as a church. In central Erith we also have the Celestial Church of Christ, and the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who seem to operate some kind of timeshare arrangement on the old, former tyre warehouse part of Electricity House, adjacent to the hideous fish roundabout. To the Western end of the town, the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries were due to move into a unit in the Manford Industrial Estate off Manor Road back in 2012, but there is no information on the church’s UK national website location finder, so I don’t know if the place is actually operating. The use of industrial units seems a pragmatic one; they hold a large number of people, usually have car parking adjacent, and the rents tend to be more affordable than other types of building.  One observation I have is that all these African churches have very dramatic and flowery titles. It has been explained to me by someone in the know that in general, the more convoluted and impressive sounding the title, the less impressive the organisation is in real life.

Bexley Council Highways Department appear to have dropped a sizable clanger. As I have recently reported, Manor Road in Erith is undergoing a major refurbishment and remodelling which involves the road being closed to through traffic for a period of ten weeks. As you may have seen in the graphic I published last week, a fairly circuitous diversion through the back streets of Slade Green has been implemented. At present, work has now begun on the Western, Erith end of the road, outside of KFC. The rest of the road is still accessible for local traffic, but no vehicles can transit the entire length of Manor Road.  Rather than face the long detour, some drivers had discovered a cheat; Appold Street, which runs off Manor Road leads down to James Watt Way – the road that runs around Morrison’s and then joins up with the roundabout by KFC and McDonald’s, on the far side of the road closure can currently be used as a rat run to avoid the road block. The problem for the drivers is that the end of Appold Street is designated for cyclists and pedestrians only – there are a number of steel and concrete bollards set in the pavement at the end of the road, supposedly to prevent cars using the junction.  The thing is that the bollards are not set closely enough together to be very effective – small cars and vans can squeeze through.  Large numbers of vehicles had been doing this, even though it is a road traffic offence to do so. The Police and Highways Department were aware of this, but until Thursday afternoon nothing had been done. From my perspective, every plan encounters difficulties when it is put into practice. The skill in project management is to acknowledge this, but be flexible enough to modify the plan in light of the change in circumstances. This is where the Manor Road restructuring plan fell down – the traffic problem was being ignored rather than being dealt with in a proactive manner. Asking around, most local residents resent the road reconstruction, but understand the necessity of the work.  Locals have been told that they can park their cars in Morrison’s car park for the duration of the closure, but unfortunately nobody told Morrison’s manager, causing confusion. The Appold Street bollard issue needed to be addressed quickly – cars that squeezed through the bollard gaps were coming into contact with pedestrians and cyclists in a way the road designers did not intend. In my opinion the Highways Department needed to either remove the bollards and allow the traffic to divert for the next few weeks (until the section of Manor Road at the top of Appold Street is re – engineered and the rat run closed). Alternatively the bollard gaps should have been reduced to allow only cyclists and pedestrians through, as was originally intended. The situation between Monday and Thursday was dangerous – I had reports of two toddlers being clipped by cars adjacent to the bollards, but fortunately there have been no serious injuries. The situation got so bad that I know of a couple of Manor Road residents that in desperation resorted to taking photographs of cars illegally squeezing through the bollard gaps. There is even a Twitter group featuring the photographs, intended to shame the guilty drivers. One way or another the situation desperately needed to change. On Thursday afternoon I discovered that a couple of the bollards had been removed and traffic formally allowed to use the short cut - only after four days of hazards caused by a lack of proactive resolution by both the Highways Department and their civil engineering contractor. No communication to the affected parties was made. A very unsatisfactory experience for all concerned, and hopefully not an indicator of the standard of project management to come. 

This week the Raspberry Pi became the best selling personal computer in Britain. It has now even outsold the classic 1982 Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the wildly popular and affordable home computer that was the introduction to programming for so many people back in the 1980’s. The Raspberry Pi is a small and affordable £35 computer that uses cheap, off the shelf components and runs the Linux operating system that is designed for teaching and education, mainly to teach school children to program, in a similar way to the original 8 bit home computers back in the eighties. So successful has the Raspberry Pi been that over three million of the computers have been sold in the last eighteen months, exceeding the records set by the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro by some margin.  A spin – off of this has been a lot of people who learned programming back in the 80’s have bought Raspberry Pi’s as a trip down memory lane, to a time when computers were simple enough to be understood by someone with relatively little experience. Not only has the Raspberry Pi set a sales record, but joint founder of the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation, and co – creator of arguably the greatest computer game of all time has been made an OBE in recognition to his pioneering computer work. David Braben has been one of the most important and influential figures in British technology for years, and the award is richly deserved. He is currently working with a small development team to produce a modern sequel to Elite for the PC and Mac. I look forward to seeing its release.

Whether it be for work, or writing up material for the Maggot Sandwich, I spend hours every day pounding away at a keyboard, whether it is my work laptop, my personal Chromebook, or my bespoke Apple iMac in my home office, where the blog is nailed together every Sunday. It has been ages since I hand wrote anything other than a birthday, or a “sorry you are leaving” card at work. My handwriting has deteriorated to the point where it is now functionally unusable. I can print in block capitals, but have to my dismay found that I can no longer do joined up writing, and my signature is an indecipherable squiggle which changes every time I try it. When I think back, it must be around fifteen years since I last hand wrote any appreciable quantity of text; I suppose that it is no surprise my writing ability has atrophied over the years. I do wonder how many other habitual keyboard users have also experienced problems with their handwriting? Do let me know - am I unusual in losing my handwriting ability, or is it a common phenomenon that has just not been readily identified? Answers on a postcard, or comment below, alternatively you can Email me at

You may recall that in back at the beginning of April I outlined my thoughts on a possible cross Thames tunnel that could be located between Lower Belvedere and Rainham in Essex? Well, one of my most reliable local informants has forwarded me a portion of a document leaked by the Planning Department of Bexley Council that contains some off the record comments from a council member. Apparently the Council are considering a bridge over the river, at the same location I suggested for a tunnel. One phrase that is included is "The plan is to land in Belvedere (Anderson Way or Crabtree Manorway North) and take the traffic through Bronze Age Way and Lower Belvedere. They've realised they need a bridge i) because the Mayor is going to push for one and ii) the rest of the relevant briefing was about turning the North of the borough into a building site and they can't regenerate without infrastructure. Of course the bridge can't be near Brampton ward." Inflammatory stuff indeed, and proof that the council use the North of the borough as a dumping ground for project that they don't want on their own doorsteps - most council seniors live in the South of the borough, away from the "hoi polloi". Hopefully more on this soon.

The Orbit Housing Association kindly invited me to join a small group of their tenants to have a guided tour of the Erith Park Development - the replacement scheme for the old Larner Road Estate. We donned hi vis waistcoats and hard hats (the place is still very much a building site), and then boarded a mini bus for the short journey from the development offices to the location of the two bedroomed show flat. Most of the visitors were former residents of Larner Road, who had been temporarily re - housed whilst the old estate was demolished and the new one built. They were getting a preview of what their new homes were going to be like. You can see  a few photos of the flat below. Click on any for a larger version.

The photo above shows the kitchen / diner area in the show flat.

The photo above shows another view of the kitchen / diner, and the 4 metre balcony. Washing lines and children's bikes will be forbidden on the balconies, and there will be an annual "best kept balcony" competition with prizes for the winners.

The photo above shows the  master bedroom.

The photo above shows the bathroom, toilet and shower. Out of the shot were also clothes drying facilities.

The general consensus was that the new flats are great - lots of storage, very low cost to heat, pre-installed Sky TV and broadband, and all have relatively large balconies. I noted that the standard of fit and finish was high, and the materials and fittings were of a higher quality than one normally sees in properties for the social sector. There were a few comments that the second bedroom was a little on the small side, but when one considers that existing tenants will be paying an average of £140 a week for a brand new apartment on a state of the art development, the conclusion was that they represent excellent value for money. I was impressed, and will be interested to see the apartments and houses that will be put up for sale. Right now, the rental sector is getting priority attention, but in a few months I will be visiting again to see the retail property offerings as they become available. The regeneration of Erith is looking very positive.

You may have  noticed that some higher end technology outlets are starting to both demo and sell 4K HD televisions now. They look very impressive with their ultrahigh definition content which is usually streamed from a high capacity memory stick plugged into a USB 3 port on the back of the screen. I have had a number of people ask me what I would do if I was in the market for a domestic television right now. My answer usually surprises them. I advise that if buying a new telly right now, one should opt for a relatively cheap, dumb model at around £550 or less. Standard 1080 HD technology is now full maturity,  and the major manufacturers are concentrating on 4K. The trouble is, 4K screens are currently eye wateringly expensive, and there is almost no native 4K content available for them – and certainly at this point no support from major studios. One can stream a limited amount of content from YouTube and there are a small number of 4K titles from other streaming video services like Vimeo, but the selection is very poor. In my opinion you are better off sticking with a cheap and cheerful entry level set to last you a couple of years until 4K provision and content is freely available – and also when broadband speeds have increased yet further. 4K images consume jaw droppingly large amounts of bandwidth; enough stretch all but those with the fastest connection and lowest network latency.  Bide your time for a while and then reap the benefits when the 4K televisions have dropped in price, and they actually have something worth watching to display.

Returning to where we started this week, here is a video showing the progress of the Crossrail project; it is far more than just the local work being undertaken in Abbey Wood; it is the largest urban infrastructure project in Europe, and involves some mind boggling logistics and engineering. Watch the video below and feel free to leave a comment.

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