Sunday, August 02, 2015

The "Funky Clock" scam.

The photo above shows the Cross Keys Centre as it looked on Friday lunchtime. The new sign lettering was being fixed to the frontage of the magnificent, sympathetically restored Victorian building. When I took the shot, the final "S" had yet to be fixed in place on the fascia - the worker installing the lettering had gone off for his lunch; now the sign is totally complete, and looking good. Parts of the building are already in use as office and meeting room space, both for the owners, Anglo - American management consultancy The Aleff Group, and for small local companies that need a certain amount of office and touch - down space. As previously mentioned, I have been an advisor to The Aleff Group for a couple of years now, and it is really gratifying to see the former run - down and very scruffy pub take on a new lease of life as a business, social and community centre for the area. I was there for a meeting with some business associates who are creating a new start - up company. Suffice to say that's all I can say on the subject for now, but in the months that come there will be some very interesting, creative and involving news to report. Watch this space. Whilst I was in the Cross Keys Centre, I was called out of the meeting room I was in, with a cryptic message "There's someone you might like to meet". Who should the person be than the power behind food delivery service Got Breakfast, local businesswoman Bukky Alabi. Although we have corresponded at some length, it was the first time that we had actually met face to face! The Cross Keys Centre is already fulfilling its objectives of becoming a hub where local small businesses and social groups can meet to exchange ideas, network and socialise. 

At this time of year, so many people seem to carry around a bottle of water; when the weather is hot, this seems like a sensible move. What I find very hard to understand is that rather than carrying an individual bottle containing up to half a litre, I see many people carrying 1.5 or even two litre bottles of water. Are they really planning on drinking that much? What will happen when they need to use the loo, and as we know, the number of public toilets in the UK has been cut back to almost nothing. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to do more to save Britain's dwindling number of public lavatories. The Prime Minister said he would examine the case for lifting thousands of pounds of taxes from them every year to try to save them from closure. The search for public toilets in towns and cities has become more and more desperate in recent years because the number of lavatories has fallen markedly. Campaigners say that many have had to be closed because of councils have to pay onerous business rates on them. The British Toilet Association has estimated that 40 per cent of local authority run public conveniences have disappeared in the last decade, taking the number down from 12,000 to 6,000, in part because councils have to pay business rates on them. The Daily Telegraph reported earlier in the week that Public toilets have traditionally been liable for business rates in the same way as non-domestic premises such as shops and offices, while churches and premises used to care for disabled people are exempt. Raymond Martin, managing director of The British Toilet Association, said: “This is a public facility. People have to go to the toilet. We have to do five things in life – we have to eat, sleep, breathe, drink and we have to go to the toilet. Failure to go to the toilet we get sick, we get disorientated, we have high blood pressure, we can have strokes – this is a health and wellbeing issue. It is about equality, social inclusion and bringing more older people into town. The reason that toilets are closing is councils do not get any financial support from government to do it, so they have to sit down and look at costs. I have calls coming into me from councils saying ‘how do we close down all our toilets’. Councils really want to provide these facilities, they really want to have them but commercially and economically they can't afford to do it. The fall in numbers of public lavatories meant more and more shop owners are complaining about people urinating in the street, and worse".

Once again this week, the News Shopper report on yet another incident involving Gravesend RNLI being called to an emergency on the River Thames at Erith. This time a person was found trying to enter the river at 2.30pm on the 31st July - I must admit that I was working from home on Friday, and i saw the Police helicopter flying along the river from the window of my home office. I did not immediately realise that it was a person in trouble. A person was found on the shore and taken into custody. We are now getting an average of one river related incident a week; I seriously think that we need a permanent RNLI presence in Erith - as I have written before, the former Port of London Authority hut directly adjacent to the Erith Jetty (as seen in the photo above - click for a larger view) would be an absolutely ideal base for the sub station - what do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at incidentally, if you check the photo of Erith Pier in the News Shopper piece, you will see that it is an ancient shot from back in around 1978, when the pier formed an integral part of Erith Deep Water Wharf. How they managed to dig up such an historic relic, I really don't know. I could have easily supplied them with an up to date shot of the excellent refurbished and very popular pier as it stands nowadays. 

Following on from my piece a couple of weeks ago, where I discussed the relatively low average house price in the London Borough of Bexley, I have come to the conclusion that averaging prices over the whole borough actually gives a very distorted picture. Houses in Bexleyheath and Sidcup (the “posh” Southern part of the borough) are pretty much in line with other parts of outer London – with the exception of certain parts of West London. The reason the average is brought down overall is that in the less wealthy Northern part of Bexley - Thamesmead East, Abbey Wood, Lower Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green - is very much cheaper that the rest of the borough. The News Shopper have been reporting that more than three quarters of London boroughs, 78.1 per cent, showed an increase in new properties with Bexley the highest at 30.6 per cent. As we know, the Northern part of the London Borough of Bexley has a high proportion of first time buyers – mainly as it is one of the very few areas where first – timers have a chance of getting a mortgage. Sadly, this is already changing, as greedy property developers are hoovering up places as they come onto the market; they are acutely aware that there is about to be a house – price boom, fed by the arrival of Crossrail to Abbey Wood, and the almost inevitability that it will be further extended to link up with the forthcoming Paramount London Theme Park on the Swanscombe Peninsular, which will feature Europe’s largest indoor water park, theatres, live music venues, attractions, cinemas, restaurants, event space and hotels. Allied to the project will be a training academy for the entertainment and hospitality sectors, a new country park, a large science and education visitor complex and the biggest performing arts centre in Europe.  The plans for the park received considerable backing from the British government when Paramount London became the first commercial venture to be awarded Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project status allowing the developers to bypass local planning requirements. The Secretary of State may make a decision on the park's planning application in autumn 2016 – though I seriously doubt any politician would contemplate putting a stop to the project, as it will involve at least 25,000 permanent full and part time jobs in an area which has exceptionally high regional unemployment. An area estimated to stretch between Dover and Greenwich will benefit from the jobs and money that the theme park will generate, and this is inevitably going to push up the local house prices, and the areas such as the North of the London Borough of Bexley are almost certain to be disproportionately affected. If you are contemplating purchasing a property in Erith or the surrounding towns, I would strongly advise you to do it as soon as possible, as prices are set to go through the roof.

The News Shopper is reporting an incident where a motorcyclist with a helmet – mounted camera caught a woman driving a car whilst not only sending a text from her mobile phone, but also eating a bowl of cereal! Personally I don't find this at all surprising; when walking around Erith on a daily basis I see drivers using mobile phones whilst on the move. Only on Tuesday afternoon did I see a man driving a seven and a half tonne box van around the roundabout at the end of James Watt Way, as he headed into Manor Road, and past the KFC drive through; he had his left hand on the wheel, and his right hand holding his mobile phone to his left ear. As he went round the roundabout, he momentarily lost control of the van as his grip in the steering wheel slipped. Fortunately he recovered quickly, but the incident could have easily escalated into something more serious – especially as there are two pedestrian crossings very nearby. What was even more disturbing was that the van was owned and operated by a very high profile local company, who almost certainly have policies in place to prohibit the use of mobile phones whilst driving – in accordance with the law. I will be keeping a lookout for such illegal activity in the future –  the law on the subject is widely flouted, yet it is also one of the most dangerous behaviour a driver can exhibit whilst behind the wheel. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or drop me a line to

The DAB debate which started a decade ago, and which I have covered in the past has been brought back to life by BBC Radio 4, with the results appearing to be somewhat familiar. Ten years ago listeners complained of poor reception on DAB, with either no audio, or audio sounding like it was being broadcast from under bubbling water, and BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme has sparked a debate resulting in listeners complaining of exactly the same thing today. On Monday morning, James Cridland and Laurence Harrison appeared on the Today Programme to defend DAB, and talk about the possible ‘end of FM’. Both provided facts and figures about DAB listening and a multi-platform world, but listeners reacted by complaining of the lack of reception which still blights many areas in the UK. The problem is down to a number of factors; the DAB standard used in the UK is the oldest and most basic type, which has been superseded; newer DAB+ which is currently either being rolled out, or already in use in much of mainland Europe uses a far newer and more sophisticated codec, which enables better sound quality at lower bitrates – meaning even if the signal is poor, you have a better chance of actually hearing something intelligible. The other side of the coin is that the FM broadcast band in the UK has been incredibly successful, and stations such as BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 3 have extremely high sound quality when listened to with a decent receiver – and the signal coverage is generally far more complete than DAB. To be honest, DAB has several advantages, but in my opinion these are outweighed by the disadvantages. DAB coverage is not the only issue; sound quality is poorer (don’t let the “Digital” tag fool you – a low bit rate DAB signal sounds far worse than an equivalent analogue FM signal). As I have mentioned before – analogue radio signals exhibit a phenomenon known as “Graceful Degradation” - a form of fault tolerance – as the signal strength at the receiver reduces, on AM the audio from the speaker gets quieter, and on FM the amount of hiss increases. Eventually the signal will get so poor that no audio is intelligible at all, but for quite a long time the listener can “get by” even though the sound is less than perfect. With DAB and other methods of digital sound transmission the degradation is somewhat different. As the signal level drops, the receiver will start to “burble” as if the audio is being under water; there will be sudden silences, a few farts and blips, then nothing. There is no period where the listener is able to make out the audio as the signal drops – it is “all or nothing”.

Southeastern rail bosses have taken a bit of a slippering recently; A public meeting was recently organised in Sidcup for local commuters and other train users to attend and give feedback to the managers of the rail company; I understand that it was what the armed forces refer to as “a meeting without coffee”. The meeting was chaired by Old Bexley and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire. One of the most common complaints about the Southeastern service is that trains are comprised of too few carriages – especially in busy times of the day. Apparently Southeastern don't have any more carriages to enable them to run longer trains, even though they extended many platforms on the North Kent line before the Olympics, to allow twelve carriage trains to run on the line. The only problem back then was that trains could not stop at Woolwich Dockyard station, as the station platform has tunnels at both ends, which only permit ten carriage trains to stop, meaning that the first and last carriage on the train would be left in the tunnel when the train stopped – a similar situation to the DLR station Cutty Sark for Greenwich, where passengers have to move to the middle of the train to get off. The way the travel planners worked things during the Olympics and Paralympics was they just closed Woolwich Dockyard station for the duration of both competitions – ostensibly to prevent visitors “getting confused and alighting at the wrong station” – this had a side benefit that Olympic visitors were somewhat shielded from seeing what a terrible dump much of the area around Woolwich Dockyard station is. The upside was that they ran twelve car trains for the duration of the sporting festival, but reverted to the shorter trains with a maximum of ten carriages directly thereafter.

I have been contacted by a couple of long – time readers who had some questions and concerns about a couple of websites that they had encountered; knowing my background in I.T, and my special interest in online security, they asked if I could investigate. They had rightly become suspicious of a website which claimed that one could legally purchase a brand new iPhone 6 for the price of £1. The website advertising this has links from the tabloid newspaper website The Daily Star, and several other reputable (!) locations. When one followed the link, you were presented with what appeared at first glance to be a page from the BBC News website. It included a story about how people in the UK could get a brand new iPhone 6 for £1. Upon reading the story, alarm bells started to ring; the writing style was nothing like BBC News standard, and there was a problem with the links on the page – they all led to the same website – this is a common trick carried out by scammers – create a fake “honey trap” site to redirect web traffic to another website. The so called "BBC" site was nothing but a fake. The second site is called “Funky Clock” which runs “special offers” amongst “skill and speed” competitions, where participants purchase credits to use to play games, the winner of which supposedly wins an iPhone 6. When you sign up for the “free” service, you are prompted to enter your bank details “for verification purposes”. What is only displayed in microscopic text is that the “free” period only lasts for three days, and that after that Funky Clock will debit your bank account by £74 a month, from now until the end of time. No cheap iPhones, no deals – the whole thing is a massive scam. It would appear that many Internet Service Providers, notably including Virgin have been duped into forwarding “Genuine offer” messages from Funky Clock to their subscribers, thus giving a veneer of apparent respectability to the confidence trick. This is a classic case of “if it seems too good to be true, it generally is”. Be warned – treat anything that says they are giving away high value items for next to nothing as a con until it can be verifiably proved otherwise (a very fat chance indeed). Unfortunately the criminals will continue such scams for as long as there are vulnerable people to fall prey to them. You have been warned.

I make no secret that I am a big fan of Google; they have turned online search into a verb, they are that good at what they do that to perform a web search has for many become “to Google”. Many of their products such as GMail and Google Docs are excellent and widely used, but they have one product, which many people – myself included, actively dislike and avoid. Google+ was intended to be a direct competitor for social networks like Facebook, but it has never gained the popularity or traction with Google users – and nowadays Facebook is a verb as well. I predicted around a year ago that Google would pull the plug on Google+, and it would seem that this has now begun. Earlier this week, the company announced its most drastic step for breaking up Google+. Google has announced more sweeping changes for Google+ over the next few months as it restructures network into two distinctly separate products: streams and photos. Previously, many tasks within Google products (such as, say, commenting on a YouTube video) required a Google+ profile, but that won't be the case in the future. Forcing Google users to sign up for a Google+ account in order to the use some of the company's other products and services was a clear bid to generate interest in its social network, but it backfired with many users. Google+ claimed 300 million monthly active users in late 2013, although Stone Temple Consulting, a third-party digital marketing agency, pegged that figure at a far lower 111 million this past April. For many users,  the biggest issue with Google's social network is that it just wasn't social enough -- the layout of the site wasn't as inviting or friendly as Facebook's traditional layout has been and we still haven't seen any indication that Google really gets how the social web works – something that Facebook seem to have got right, despite their own illogical and inconsistent user interface – which users don't seem to mind. The move means users will soon be able to use their standard Google account to share content, communicate with contacts, create a YouTube channel, and so on. Unlike your public Google+ profile, your Google account is not searchable or follow able. If you already created a Google+ profile (read: Google conned you into doing it) but don't plan to use Google+, the company says it will “offer better options for managing and removing” your public profile. The changes are meant to strike a balance between the select few who actually like using Google+ and everyone else whom Google forced to sign up for its social network. I predict that Google will keep Google+ for another year or so, then quietly retire it as an irrelevance. What do you think? Do you like Google+ Let me know – Email

The controversy over Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond may now have finally been put to bed, now that the announcement that their new car show will be hosted on Amazon Prime. Having said that, as I mentioned a while back, there are a number of excellent car shows broadcast on YouTube. One of them, by a chap called Harry Metcalfe is a real find. Harry is thoughtful and quietly spoken, but really knows what he is talking about; he is the former editor of the car magazine Evo, and a consultant to the Jaguar Range Rover group. In the video below, he drives an immaculate 1980 vintage Jaguar XJS V12 over a thousand miles from the UK to Monaco. Harry is either in possession of an incredible insight into the mechanical reliability of the thirty five year old grand tourer, or he has amazing faith in the build quality of the old Jag, built during their ownership by British Leyland, a company not exactly famous for the reliability, or indeed mechanical build quality of their cars. Watch and enjoy the latest episode of "Harry's Garage".


  1. I think the reason some people carry large water bottles around is because they can be cheaper than the small ones. Around 99.9999999% of the cost of bottled water is the bottle and the cost of shipping it, so that's what you are paying for. I had something to say about the whole industry a while back.

  2. I got tricked and ended up in their nasty trap. They charged me £77 and I am very very mad at myself and quite upset with what they have done. Please be careful with these and if you are about to subscribe read ALL the terms and conditions, they have so many hidden payments in it.

    1. How do you cancel the subscription as I can't find any contact info and do not have an email acknowledgement from them? Thank you