Sunday, May 15, 2016

The "Our Erith" art exhibition.

This weekend saw the launch of the first "Our Erith" art exhibition, hosted by The Friends of Christ Church Erith within the confines of the listed church building. Over 120 original paintings, photographs, sculptures and embroidery were on show. The event was opened by the Friends of Christ Church sponsor, MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Teresa Pearce. It had been intended for the Mayor of Bexley to open the event, but due to a mix - up at the Mayor's office, the event was not recorded in her diary. This was not a major setback, and Teresa, along with Friends Committee Chairman Jim Bennett made a great job of opening the exhibition. You can get an idea of a small number of the many exhibits from the photos above and below - click on any one for a larger view. 

Housing concerns make headlines in the local press this week; the News Shopper reports that a Crayford based midwife by the name of Elaine Willis has submitted a Freedom of Information request to Bexley Council to find out how much of the housing being planned, or under construction in the borough will be available to affordably rent. The answer is disturbingly little. The Erith Park development has fifty six percent of affordable rental properties; the forthcoming Riverside Swimming baths site redevelopment will have twenty five percent for affordable rent, and the Howbury Centre site in Slade Green will have fourteen percent for affordable rent. Mrs Willis told the News Shopper “My main concern is about all the buildings going up in this area and only a minute amount is social housing.  It must be absolutely horrible living in temporary accommodation with all these properties going up in this area. There is nothing for the people on the waiting lists. It seems wrong to me.  I grew up on a council estate - how to hell are they going to buy a £250,000 house? It’s just going to get more and more expensive to live down here.  I am a qualified midwife and I earn a decent wage but I wouldn’t even be able to buy a place.  People are having their aspirations taken away because they can’t buy a home." Sadly many people are in this position. I have a well-paid job working for a multinational professional services firm, but even so, the pace of property inflation has been so high that I could not afford to buy my own house if I was in the market for it today. Mrs Willis also points out that none of the properties being constructed on the Erith Quarry or Tower Hill sites in Erith have any provision for affordable housing. I think she misses a point here, however. Both the Erith Quarry (The Anderson Group) and Tower Hill (Barratt Homes) sites are fully commercial ventures being constructed by private firms rather than housing associations. They are there to make a profit for their shareholders, and as far as the Erith Quarry development is concerned, I understand that it is being pitched as an aspirational location with two, three and four bedroomed houses – the developers are aiming at relatively wealthy professional people buying their second or third time around home, not at first time buyers. They are hoping that the influx of middle class people into the predominantly working class area will mean that money will come into Erith, and hopefully filter into the local economy. The costs of properties in both Tower Hill and Erith Quarry are indeed substantially higher than the norm for the area, but perversely substantially cheaper than equivalent properties in other areas with a similar commuting time into central London. Mrs Willis did omit one development from her information request – she forgot about the forty new apartments for affordable rent in James Watt Way, which will be ready for occupation very soon now. The entire block is one hundred percent available for affordable rent. I would imagine that interest in this site must be very high – it will be interesting to observe as tenants get to move in soon.

As I have mentioned in the past, I feel that I am not alone in seriously considering ditching my subscription to Sky TV, which I have had for the last twenty years. The quality of programmes and especially the selection of premium movies leaves much to be desired, and I seriously resent paying for premium channels like Sky Atlantic, and still have to sit through advert breaks. All Sky subscribers are actually paying a subscription to watch adverts – it makes no sense. In the USA, commercial TV companies are already feeling the pinch. Some are cutting back on the number and length of their commercial breaks to try and tempt back customers who are now voting with their feet and leaving the traditional broadcasters and moving to subscription based, advert free streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Netflix knows their customers hate ads. "We know one of the benefits of an ecosystem like Netflix is its lack of advertising," Howard Shimmel, a chief research officer at Time Warner, told Bloomberg in an interview last year. "Consumers are being trained there are places they can go to avoid ads." In response to Netflix's advertising policy, many networks have actually cut back on the amount of ads they show in an effort to lure back in the younger Netflix / Amazon Prime generation. Media analyst crunched some numbers and found that each Netflix subscriber saves themselves about 158.5 hours of commercials per year. The number will be somewhat lower in the UK and most of Europe, where fewer adverts are allowed per hour of broadcast television, but it is still a substantial number. As I have previously written, I consider the Sky business model to be fundamentally broken, and if they don’t move away from hugely expensive satellite broadcasting and convert to a streaming service, I think they will be dead and gone in the next five years. What do you think? Comment below, or Email

Devices such as mobile phones and tablets such as the Apple iPad can use swipe based authentication to lock and unlock the screen. This is convenient and relatively easy to remember when compared to a password or pass number, as many also use. The problem is that swiping has proved to be relatively insecure. I have in the past successfully unlocked a Samsung tablet which used swipe authentication - after getting permission from the owner. I won't detail how here, but suffice to say it is very simple indeed. Alternative methods of securing mobile devices are now being identified by hardware manufacturers. Among the many clever post-password authentication schemes currently under development is multi-touch gesture analysis. The basic idea is to observe a user's movements on a touchscreen device for some period of time and to come up with a gestural profile unique to that individual. Then, based on this profile, the system can verify a user's identity continuously as they use the device. The idea sounds fishy, yes. Couldn't some hacker just observe those same gestures and then mimic them to gain access to a system? The answer should be no because the gestures read by the system are interpreted in such a way as to compile biometric profiles of the user's hand/wrist/etc, resulting in a model that can be used to interpret/verify new/different gestures down the line.  While gestural ID systems are getting a lot of research play these days thanks to error rates trending toward the low single-digits, they also tend to take a rosy view of the security world in which hackers attempt to breach such defences via crude impersonation, e.g. when one hacker-user attempts to mirror some target-user. This is called a zero-effort attack and it stands in contrast to an attack-by-forgery, in which an attempt is made to recreate (rather than mimic) the user-target. A DARPA -funded report titled "Robotic Robbery on the Touch Screen" published recently in the journal ACM Transactions on Information and System Security looks at gestural authentication through the eyes of a more sophisticated hacker. It presents two Lego-driven robotic attacks on a touch-based authentication system—one is based on gestural statistics collected over time from a large population of users and the other is based on stealing gestural data directly from a user. Both were pretty effective. "Both attacks are launched by a Lego robot that is trained on how to swipe on the touch screen," the paper explains. "Using seven verification algorithms and a large dataset of users, we show that the attacks cause the system’s mean false acceptance rate (FAR) to increase by up to fivefold relative to the mean FAR seen under the standard zero-effort impostor attack." To amass enough statistics to launch the first attack, the researchers took 41 subjects, mostly college students between 18 and 25 years of age, and had them accomplish various tasks on an Android phone representing fairly normal Android operation. 28 different swipe-features were tabulated, ranging from touch-pressure to swipe start and end locations to swipe duration. The resulting data was then compiled into a single ultra-generic power-user.  This power-user ultimately became the Lego robot, which was outfitted with a Play-Doh-moulded "finger." The robot was able to achieve a 70 percent FAR for the least affected gesture-recognition algorithm the experiment tested. In other words, the robot was usually able to trick a recognition algorithm using high-resolution statistical observations of actual smart-phone usage. The second attack involved the theft of actual gesture-recognition data from a collection of target-user's phones. This data was then used by the robot to recreate a specific target-user's swiping biometrics, with, as expected, even better results. FARs for this method hit ninety percent at the high end.  While continuous gesture-based authentication is really only meant to be a backup to other (one-time) authentication methods, its apparent leakiness should be concerning. Also of concern, the authors note, is the traditional usage of zero-effort attacks for representing the relative successes of gestural algorithms.  "Because the attacks require only basic programming skills and are launched using cheap off-the-shelf hardware, they represent a realistic threat that should be expected to be faced by a real deployment of a touch-based authentication system," the paper concludes. "The article not only calls for the incorporation of robotic attacks in the standard impostor testing routine of touch-based authentication systems but also calls for research into mechanisms that could defeat these attacks”.

As I predicted some time ago, the number of shopping trolleys and baskets that are being stolen from Britain's supermarkets has rocketed since the plastic carrier bag charge came into force last October. Some supermarkets such as Asda are fitting their baskets and trolleys with electronic security tags to try and prevent thefts. Some light fingered shoppers are even pinching trolleys from stores and then dumping them in the streets after removing their shopping. Trolleys cost about £100 to replace and baskets around £10 – while electronic security tags cost just £1 each. I have also heard evidence from the medical profession that reusing "bags for life" can be extremely hazardous, as cross contamination from raw and ready to eat foods can occur, and bacteria can live on the surfaces of the bags for several days. There is anecdotal evidence that incidences of campylobacter and salmonella are on the increase. In a recent press interview, Professor Anthony Hilton, head of biological and biomedical science at Aston University, said the public needs to be educated about the dangers of contaminated bags. Professor Hilton and his team worked out that millions of bacteria cells can survive on plastic bag for days or even weeks - including potentially deadly E. coli. He said: "Reusing plastic bags is hugely beneficial to the environment but the public should be mindful of the ability of bacteria to contaminate and survive on bags for long periods of time. Bacteria can easily transfer from different types of reusable bags to the hands and back again. What is more, using the same bag repeatedly for different purposes increases the risk of contaminating the bag with a whole host of harmful bacteria. For example, carrying fresh meat brings with it known contamination risks and if you then use the same bag for carrying ready-to-eat foods such as cheese or bread there is the potential for cross-contamination. Likewise, if you carry sports shoes one day and then shopping the next." He advises that people only use certain bags for certain types of food produce, and always wash hands and goods thoroughly.

I don’t normally pass comment on stories that get covered by the national press, as I usually don’t find that I have anything to add to them. In this case I will make an exception. You may have seen the story about the tiny flat in Thamesmead - In the online listing, on Hunters estate agents website,  is described as: "One bedroom flat, available immediately. There is a lounge, fitted kitchen, double bedroom and gas central heating."  It is exceedingly small, having originally been designed for a car, and the lounge is only 4.42m by 2.26m. To be honest I wonder if it is even a legal development; the garages are for the storage of cars and other vehicles, and are not designed for habitation. It strikes me as being very similar to the “beds in sheds” phenomenon where unscrupulous landlords cram as many tenants into a property as they can physically manage, in order to illegally increase their earnings. Planning regulations, health and safety and fire regulations are ignored.  This story sounds very similar. I wonder if the notoriety of the story, and how widespread it has become will cause the planning authorities to take action? It is in interesting to note that the estate agents are up to their old tricks – they say that the tiny flat is located in Abbey Wood, when it is actually situated in one of the less desirable parts of Thamesmead.

You may recall me writing a while back in praise of the Tesla model S electric luxury limousine car. Do you have a teenage child that likes to borrow your car and then destroy it in a spectacular crash? I sincerely hope the answer to that question is a resounding "no," but in the off chance that you do, you may want to consider changing your current vehicle for a Tesla model S. Last week in Germany, the joyriding daughter of a Tesla owner discovered first hand just how safe the electric vehicle is, after losing control at high speed and rolling into a field. According to German newspaper Merkur, the 18-year old and four of her friends were messing around in her father's Model S before losing control. The car flew more than 80 feet (25m) into a field before rolling once and coming to a halt. Although three of the occupants had to be helicoptered to hospitals in Munich for treatment, none of their injuries were life-threatening, a testament to the safety of Tesla's skateboard chassis. Unlike a conventionally powered car, the Model S (and the newer Model X) have no large engine up front to intrude into the passenger compartment during a collision. This means the front and rear crumple zones can effectively dissipate the kinetic energy of a crash, as seen to good effect in the photographs taken after the accident, which you can see here. While the Model S was heavily damaged, one does not need much of an imagination to think that a similar crash in a front-engined internal combustion vehicle would have had a much worse outcome for the car's five occupants. In essence, if the teenagers had been in a conventionally powered car, they would have very likely have been killed. 

You may recall my account of attending the Bexley Beer Festival that I published last week. The event was excellent, well attended and as always very relaxed and friendly. What I neglected to mention was that afterwards myself and three friends decided that we would walk into Bexley Village and have a curry. We ended up at the very pleasant Baltizer Restaurant, which is located in one of the railway arches in the town centre. A very nice meal was had by all; amongst the dishes we enjoyed was a large bowl of outstanding lentil dhall, which was shared by the party. I love dhall - it is a cheap, nutritious and tasty dish which anyone, carnivore, veggie or vegan can eat. There is only one problem with it, which normally arises the next morning. That is rampant flatulence - I ended up sounding like a badly tuned two - stroke outboard engine for most of the Saturday, and I was not the only one of the group so affected. This got me thinking - surely there must be a solution to this kind of embarrassing problem? I recently read that an inventor has come up with a material comprising of metallic silver chemically bonded to polyester, to make underpants that kill harmful microbes, and thus stop the pants from becoming smelly with wear. In addition to the antimicrobial properties, the underwear can also help regulate body temperature because of silver’s thermal conductivity properties. Inventor company Organic Basics says that the underwear is “elegant. It’s comfortable. It’s odourless. It’s the future of underwear.” The company is raising funds for manufacturing the boxers, as well as T-shirts and socks, on Kickstarter. However, while silver is effective at killing off foul microbes, it has no defence against the power of the fart. I had a think; as some will know parts of Lower Belvedere and Erith were at potential risk of Chlorine gas poisoning from the giant tank of liquified Chlorine which was located in the May and Baker chemical refinery in Lower Belvedere. In fact, back on the 22nd February 1986, some roads in Lower Belvedere were indeed evacuated following a Chlorine leak, though fortunately nobody was hurt. Parts of Erith are similarly affected by various chemicals stored in warehouses and yards in the in the Darent Industrial Park in Wallhouse Road, Slade Green. Consequent to all of these noxious chemicals in the local area, some time ago I purchased a brand new high end gas mask, seen in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. The gas mask is of the same type used by the United Nations Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons inspectors. I also have spare air filters. The air filters contain a number of elements designed to pass through only clean air - any gases, microbes or particles of radioactive material would be filtered out. One of the main constituents of the filters is Activated Carbon - this is the substance which removes gases and only passes clean air. I think you can see where I am going with this one. What if you were to equip silver bonded underpants with a "panty liner" incorporating a layer of Activated Carbon? You could produce a pair of pants that were flatulence filters. You could let rip to your heart's content, secure in the knowledge that not even the slightest noxious whiff would escape. It would not do anything about the sound however - so maybe the whole idea needs a little more development. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

At the "Our Erith" art show in Christ Church Erith, I spoke to numerous people who were not conversant with the history of Erith and the surrounding areas, and who had absolutely no idea of the historic connections Erith has with so many scientific and engineering inventions. Back in Edwardian times, Erith and Crayford were one of the arms manufacturing centres of the UK, mostly due tot he efforts of Sir Hiram Maxim. I thought that I would expand on a piece I wrote about Sir Hiram Maxim a while ago by publishing parts of his obituary, which was originally published back in November 1916 in the Times:- "Sir HIRAM STEVENS MAXIM was born at Sangersville, Maine, on 15th February 1840. His ancestors were Huguenots and came to England at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Early in the eighteenth century they emigrated to Plymouth, Mass., and a hundred years later went to Maine. At the age of fourteen his father apprenticed him to a coach-builder, and during this period he was credited with having constructed the first tricycle built in America. Soon after this he worked at his uncle's engineering works at Fitchburg, Mass., and later was at a philosophical instrument maker's, also at a shipbuilder's. He was for a time with Mr. Oliver P. Drake, a maker of gas-machines at Boston, and while so engaged invented in 1865 a machine for making lighting gas by means of vaporized petroleum. He also perfected an automatic sprinkler, and made improvements in feed-water heaters, steam and vacuum pumps, engine governors, gas-motors, etc. In 1878 he became chief engineer of the first electric lighting company in the United States, which was founded by Mr. S. D. Schuyler. While so engaged he invented the process of flashing carbon filament lamps in a hydrocarbon vapour, and took out patents for dynamos, lamp carbons, and secondary batteries. In 1881 he went to Europe to represent his firm in Paris, and while there he was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur, on account of his invention of an electric pressure-regulator. It was at that time he became interested in machine-guns, and was introduced to Mr. Albert Vickers, who at once recognized the value of the invention, which surmounted the difficulty of cartridges jamming in the barrel. The Maxim Gun Co., with Mr. Vickers as chairman, was founded in 1884, and in 1888 amalgamated with the Nordenfeldt Co. Later, these were absorbed in the Vickers firm, which then became Vickers, Sons, and Maxim. The Maxim gun was adopted by the British Army in 1889, and by the Navy in 1892, and it has been supplied in large quantities to all the military powers of the world. When he ceased to be a director of the firm on his seventy-first birthday, in 1911, the title was again changed to Vickers Limited. It is reported that, on the suggestion of Lord Wolseley, he invented a smokeless powder, and evolved the Pom-Pom gun. The question of aviation had interested Maxim from his youth, but he never achieved successful flight. Many experiments were carried out during 1892-4 at Baldwin's Park, Kent, and the most novel features were the engines and boilers; but their weight, together with that of the feed-water and fuel, precluded their success. A Paper on this subject was read by him in 1894 at a Meeting of the British Association. The light motor, to which aeroplanes now owe their success, had not at that time been developed. One Paper he contributed to this Institution, namely on "The Maxim Automatic Machine-Gun " (Proceedings, 1885, page 167). Honours and decorations were accorded to him in most European countries, and he received the Order of Knighthood in 1901. He had a rare genius for invention, and, while discarding failures, took great pride in his successes, which ranged over a great variety of ideas. His death took place at Streatham on 24th November 1916, in his seventy-seventh year". His son Hiram Percy Maxim (1869-1936) followed in his father and uncle's footsteps and became a mechanical engineer and weapons designer as well, but he is perhaps best known for his early amateur radio experiments and for founding the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) - the American equivalent of the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) of which I am a member.

The end video this week is of a venue that is very popular and well - known by people outside of the local area, but almost completely unknown to many locals. The Abbey Wood Caravan Club site is an incredibly popular location for visitors to London. I have visited the site - it is clean, well run and you would not know that you were in South East London. Highly recommended if you are on a camping trip and want somewhere to stay locally. 

1 comment:

  1. As people get priced out nearer London, so they start driving up prices in boroughs like Bexley and the end result is that no one on an average wage can really afford to buy anywhere in London. What is a city going to look like when no ordinary worker can afford to live in it?