Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Betamax Challenge.

The serious traffic accident outside of the Running Horses in Erith High Street on Tuesday lunchtime made the regional newspapers – the London Evening Standard covered the story, which you can read here. There was also a very interesting and pertinent comment made on the story on the News Shopper website. A young lady made the following observation “At least 10 accidents have happened in our window view in the past ten years, in that same spot. It was only yesterday, that the police rang my Mum to get evidence after she was verbally abused in the street. The police said there is no CCTV to prove it. It was only 3 weeks ago that there was another accident there and the youths left the car in the middle of the road and yet again, the road was closed off. This is a blind spot. One way traffic and no lights in the evening on the Riverside Gardens. It's just the norm here. Kaitlyn Boxall, age 15. MORE POLICE!!!” The problems with traffic accidents in Erith High Street will only get worse when the new housing development is constructed on the site of the old Erith Riverside Swimming Baths on the corner of Walnut Tree Road. Around seventy residences – a mix of apartments and town houses will be built on the site, and the level of traffic along the river front road will increase. I am somewhat surprised at the number of serious accidents that have been reported on the road over the last couple of years, as Erith High Street has been a one way road for many years, and it has some fairly sizable speed bumps, as anyone who has been on a bus travelling along the road will attest. I understand that due to worn road markings, there can be confusion over rights of way at the junction between Erith High Street and West Street. I have no idea of the precise circumstances of the most recent accident, but it does seem that despite the local traffic calming measures, it would seem to still be a black spot for traffic collisions.  Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Leave a comment below, or drop me a line to

Bexley Council is continuing in its cutbacks; next week an announcement will be made regarding the fate of a number of Bexley libraries. It is strongly anticipated that the libraries located at Blackfen, Bostall, North Heath and Upper Belvedere will be handed over to community groups to run, in order to save on the wages bill. Basically the staff will be replaced with unpaid volunteers. Under the new management arrangements, the core services of the library will be enhanced by new facilities including a click and collect parcel service, a food ordering service and a coffee shop.  Membership of the libraries will continue to be free of charge. No details have been released about any possible changes to Erith Library, which I pass twice daily on my way to and from work. I think it would be more accurate to call the place the “Erith Wi-Fi Hotspot” as most of the people who use the library are school children and students from Bexley College who use the free WiFi to connect their laptops and tablets in order to undertake research and study. Very few people seem to avail themselves of the actual books. I have to say that the current library feels not very welcoming; it is airless and very much a bland, corporate space that could just as easily be a hospital waiting room. To my opinion it entirely lacks the charm and character of the old Andrew Carnegie gifted library building in Walnut Tree Road (see the photo above - click on it for a larger view), which stands empty and unused – a real shame for what is decidedly one of the landmark buildings of Erith. Debate about the future of the former library building is very much under way. Erith Town Forum have been campaigning for the building to be both preserved and also to be put back into productive public use. Hopefully more news will become available soon.

There has been coverage in the press recently about the number of people who are installing advert blocking software on their computers - a move which is threatening the business models of large numbers of websites that rely on adverts on their sites to pay the bills. There is another, more worrying aspect to the whole story though; online adverts can be subverted to install malware on the computer visiting that site. High end business magazine The Economist recently had some serious problems with their website, when it was taken over by criminals for a short period of time.  "If you visited at any time between Oct. 31, 23:52 GMT and 01:15 GMT, Nov. 1, using Windows OS and you do not have trusted anti-virus software installed, it is possible that malware disguised as an Adobe update was downloaded onto your PC," the publication said. The Economist advised that anyone who received what appeared to be a Flash update from the website should change all of their passwords on their computer, and notify their banks and other financial institutions to check for suspicious activity. The magazine also recommended that any exposed users should install and maintain up-to-date antivirus software from Microsoft or a third-party security vendor, a good idea even for those who were not exposed to the Halloween weekend PageFair malware attack. The malware outbreak was attributed to an attack on the popular PageFair publishing tool. Hackers were able to get into PageFair's systems and play a devious Halloween trick on the company and customers who use its tools to thwart ad-blocking plug-ins. According to PageFair, the attackers stole employee credentials via a spear phishing attack and then took over the PageFair content distribution network. From there, the hackers began feeding publishers JavaScript code that attempted to download and install a botnet controller masquerading as an update for Adobe's Flash Player plugin. It is estimated that the sites affected by the PageFair breach serve as many as 10 million page views per month. The outbreak does no favours for PageFair's campaign to dissuade users from running ad-blockers, which are popular in large part because of their ability to shield users from malicious advertising copy, just like they have been hit with. It just goes to show that even the most august and reputable websites can be hijacked by bad guys.

Regular Maggot Sandwich reader Lincoln sent me the historic photo above, and wrote:- "I thought you might like to see this picture. I have read your stuff in the MS recently about BICC at Erith, Cable making was also happened on the West side of the Greenwich Peninsula, this picture shows the Cable and Wireless cable making plant and a cable being loaded onto the ship. Yesterday was particularly nostalgic for my old friend who worked for C+W in the very early 1970's and actually used to go to the plant and then worked on this ship laying cable in the West Indies. The plant is now replaced by flats but the loading gantry is still on the dockside. Incidentally the developers have blocked off the Thames Path with no diversion signs at all. I guess money talks". I think you are sadly correct; too much of our industrial history is being quietly erased to make way for more anonymous apartments for absentee foreign owners to purchase as "investments" - often a euphemism for money laundering. Look at the scandalous situation at Enderby Wharf. 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 seabed 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.

Bookmaker Paddy Power has submitted an application to open a new shop in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere. The new shop is said to bring five new jobs to the village. A spokesperson from Paddy Power was quoted in the Bexley Times as saying "We look forward to our new team members bringing our unique brand to life on Nuxley Road and are proud to be investing in the Belvedere community" Er - quite. It seems like every high street now has three or four shops, whereas in the past one might have sufficed. What I have discovered is that the reason for the explosion in the number of shops has got little if anything to do with more people wanting to put a few quid on a horse, or bet on the outcome of a football match – in fact research shows that “conventional” betting is now a minority activity for UK betting shops. What people are visiting betting shops for nowadays is something else entirely – the Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT).  This bears little resemblance to the old style “one armed bandit” which would accept your 10p in the slot. Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are slick, computerised devices that offer games such as poker, blackjack and roulette. Gamblers can place bets using debit or credit cards, and it is possible to lose £100 every twenty seconds on such machines. In the betting shop industry, these machines are known as “the crack cocaine of gambling” as studies have proved that they are four times more psychologically addictive than any other activity in a bookmaker. There are currently no reliable estimates of the number of people (and it is usually young men) who are addicted to FOBT machines. The insidious spread of bookmakers on British high streets can be followed back to 2005, when Tony Blair’s government passed the Gambling Act, which at the time was feared to allow the creation of “super casinos”. This did not happen; instead it opened the doors for a deluge of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. There are currently 33,000 such terminals in the UK, and they generate £1.5 billion in profit for the bookmakers. The real reason for the explosion in the number, rather than the size of bookmakers shops is simple. The Gambling Act 2005 placed restrictions on the number of FOBT’s in each bookmaker. What it did not do was place any restriction on the number of bookmakers on any high street. Consequently you may see several bookmakers in the same area, all from the same parent company. If a bookmaker wants to run more Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in a particular area, all it has to do is get permission to open another shop. Until recently many local councils have been reluctant to  block these extra shops, as they bring in council tax revenue, and often occupy otherwise empty premises. This attitude is starting to change, as the realisation that FOBT machines suck cash out of hard pressed communities – yes, the shops do employ a small number of staff –  but these usually on very long hours, and paid the minimum wage. Most of the bookmaker chains are owned by FTSE listed companies who  operate aggressive, but technically legal tax avoidance schemes – so the money that comes out of bookmakers does not go back into the local economy. Personally I have absolutely no interest in any form of gambling – I regard it as a tax on the stupid. The problem is that the gambling industry is wealthy and powerful, and has a strong lobby in parliament – last year the five big gambling firms, which between them account for 92% of all bookmakers shops on the high street made an estimated total gross profit of £1.6 billion on FOBT machines alone – and this does not take into account the additional cash they generate through conventional stakes based gambling; still a very lucrative market, if now being overshadowed by the rise of the electronic gambling machine, and also it ignores the vast amounts of cash spent during online gambling – a somewhat shady and overlooked area of an industry that already has a somewhat tarnished image. Personally I feel that the UK gambling industry needs a massive shake up. It has been allowed far too free a rein for years, and has exploited the market to the point where it is more powerful than some banks. People rightly get annoyed by the activities of certain banks and bankers, whilst seemingly overlooking the scourge of the high street and nowadays also the web, the big five bookies. If all this was not bad enough, the web based casinos and poker sites that operate on the periphery of some country’s laws are proving increasingly aggressive in trying to separate people from their hard earned cash. I have noticed that sites such as 888 Casino and 888 Poker use software resistant pop – ups and pop unders, which are embedded into legitimate web sites, usually without the owner’s consent. The fact that a large organisation would willfully contravene the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to try and promote its dubious services to me says a lot about their intentions. I have a very low opinion of such organisations.  What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email

The historic photograph above was sent to me by reader Jacob earlier this week; it shows young members of the Queen Street Baptist Church Young Men's Gymnastic Club from back in 1918. It strikes me that the young lads in the photo were extremely lucky to be just a little too young to have been eligible for the draft for the Great War - and they would have been too old for the draft for World War II as well. After the utter carnage that had been, and the carnage that was to come, at least one generation would not have front line experience of global warfare.

E.ON this week became the first of the major energy suppliers to be hit by new fines for failing to install smart meters for business customers. Watchdog Ofgem said that E.ON failed to provide two-thirds of its business customers with advanced meters by the deadline of April 2014 and fined it £7 million.  If the company fails to hit a new target it could face a further  £7 million sanction and a possible sales ban. Two more providers — British Gas and npower — are also being investigated after the energy industry came up short in fulfilling a five-year target to roll-out sophisticated meters which would give businesses more accurate bills, help them monitor their energy usage and make it easier to switch suppliers. When Ofgem began its investigation, just over a year ago, some 40,000 business customers were still waiting for a smart meter, more than half of which should have been supplied by one of these three companies. As I have written in the past, smart meters are there for the convenience of the utility companies, not for the customer; they tie the customer to the existing supplier, as most energy companies use different, incompatible models of smart meter, and if the customer decides to switch supplier, they have to bear the cost of the new meter to be installed, and the old one to be taken away - something the energy companies don't like admitting.

MP for Erith and Thamesmead Teresa Pearce attended the St John’s Ambulance Everyday Heroes awards earlier this week; she is campaigning for compulsory first aid training for all state-educated children. At the ceremony, Teresa said "Basic first aid skills can transform lives and teach responsibility. That’s why the campaign’s called ‘Every Child A Lifesaver’: because every child has the untapped potential to save a life The bill doesn’t expect the impossible to suddenly become possible. But we can give people the absolute best chance of surviving by equipping children with the skills to keep them alive while the ambulance gets to them." I think that this is an absolutely excellent idea - I just wonder why nobody has thought of it before?

Boris Johnson has announced free travel for under 11s will be extended from Transport for London services to the National Rail network from January 2nd next year. Children under 11 years of age can currently travel free on Tubes, London buses, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway services, which has put many in South and South East London at a disadvantage. Other transport fares are to increase by one per cent but single bus fares and all but two pay as you go Tube charges will remain the same. The revised charges, including a 10p increase to £2.40 for some Tube fares and a 20p rise to £17.20 for an all zones travelcard, are expected to raise £43m annually. This all sounds quite fair and equitable - giving under elevens from South of the River Thames the same access to rail based public transportation as their compatriots North of the river. The flipside of this free travel may be similar to what happened when bus travel was made free to minors - a small minority of kids then felt it was OK for them to abuse the privilege. You still get kids travelling one stop on the bus, then getting off. Whether the same thing will happen with the railways, only time will tell.

You may have noticed that earlier this week the BBC News website featured a story about how Sony were finally stopping production of Betamax video cassettes. Something that might quite surprise you is that the price of old Betamax video recorders is currently going through the roof; a couple of years ago you could not give one away if you tried. Suddenly they are turning up on EBay and the bidding competition is fierce. Prices of £250 and upwards have been noted. What is the reason for this? Well, it does not seem to be down to any love for the outdated video format (which whilst it failed in the domestic home market, it was the cornerstone of many TV news and outside broadcast units for many years).  It would appear that people are coming across family videos recorded on Betamax cassettes and wish to digitise them. Most professional video transfer services can handle VHS and the common broadcast formats, but very few are capable of doing anything with a Betamax format cassette. People with old recordings of weddings and family events realise that if they wish to be able to see them again, they will need to locate a device capable of playing the tape format - hence the sudden upsurge of interest. The ironic thing is, it is pretty likely that the tapes will be unwatchable even when a suitable player is used. Both Betamax and VHS cassettes deteriorate over time, even when stored in ideal conditions. A thirty year old video tape will have demagnetised and printed through so much that it will almost certainly show on screen as a mess of flickering static with a few undersaturated, ghostly images of what remains of the original recording now.  I recently have read quite a lot about the format wars between VHS and Betamax back in the early 1980's. From all that I have read, it became apparent that Sony, the creators of the Beta format were pretty much to blame for the demise of what initially was a far technically superior video format than the relatively pedestrian VHS system. The main determining factor between Betamax and VHS was the cost of the recorders and length of recording time. Betamax is, in theory, a superior recording format over VHS due to resolution (250 lines vs. 240 lines), slightly superior sound, and a more stable image; Betamax recorders were also of higher quality construction. But these differences were negligible to consumers, and thus did not justify either the extra cost of a Betamax VCR (which was often significantly more expensive than a VHS equivalent) or Betamax's shorter recording time. JVC, which designed the VHS technology, licensed it to any manufacturer that was interested. The manufacturers then competed against each other for sales, resulting in lower prices to the consumer. Sony was the only manufacturer of Betamax initially and so was not pressured to reduce prices. Only in the early 1980s did Sony decide to licence Betamax technology to other manufacturers, such as Toshiba and Sanyo. What Sony did not take into account was what consumers wanted. While Betamax was believed to be the superior format in the minds of the public and press (due to excellent marketing by Sony), consumers wanted an affordable video recorder (a VHS machine was often around a hundred pounds less than an equivalent Betamax one); Sony believed that having better quality recordings was the key to success, and that consumers would be willing to pay a higher retail price for this, whereas it soon became clear that consumer desire was focused more intently on longer recording time, lower retail price, and compatibility with other machines for cassette sharing (as VHS was becoming the format in the majority of homes). The real Betamax killer was that for the first few years, the maximum length of recording was limited to one hour on Beta, whereas VHS could stretch to four hours with reduced image quality, critically long enough to record an entire American football game - the lucrative mass American market both systems were looking to crack. Sony had the attitude of "We know best" as to what the market wanted, and ignored requests for features that quickly became standard with their competitors. Consequently Betamax is now considered alongside the 8 - Track cartridge as a dodo technology. You can read about the history of the video format war by clicking here. If you are of the opinion that Betamax is far too mainstream, well known and commonplace, do yourself a favour by visiting the Philips V2000 web site here. You can also read more about other format wars by clicking here.

Richard, the author of the excellent Thamesmead Grump blog has been taking photographs of local wildlife for a very long time. He's seen quite a few seals in the river near to Crossness; the presence of seals in the river is a very good indication of good quality water and lots of wildlife, as seals are at the top of the river food chain, and they would not hang around if there were not plenty of fish and shellfish to eat. This is all very good news for the overall health of the River Thames. The video below was taken on the Slade Green Marshes by a local chap with an amateur camera drone. He catches four seals basking on the shore - they seem totally relaxed, despite the flying camera. Give it a watch and see what you think - comments below, or drop me a line to

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