Sunday, May 01, 2016

The suits.

If you dropped into Morrison's supermarket in Erith on Wednesday or Thursday last week, you would probably have seen something quite interesting. Thirty or so directors and senior managers from Morrison's headquarters in Bradford, West Yorkshire descended on the Erith store to meet with the local management team. Word from a couple of my inside sources is that Morrison's have been concentrating new developments and services in their Northern stores, and the ones in the South have been missing out. Morrison's started out, and for many years was a regional store chain only operating in the North of England. It would seem that mentality is still present in the board of Directors. A downturn in sales has been especially noted in the Southern stores, and they have finally realised that they have a country - wide operation that needs to be treated as such. The "suits" were on site at the Erith store on a fact finding mission. I understand that a partial refit and upgrade may well be on the cards in the not - too distant future.  More details will hopefully be soon to come. 

As regular Maggot Sandwich readers will be aware, I have been banging on about the forthcoming London Paramount Theme Park for the last couple of years. Until recently the local press have been noticeably quiet on the subject. This week the News Shopper finally featured the subject in a fairly lengthy article. The theme park will be the third largest in the World, covering an area in excess of 100 acres. Unlike the Disney theme parks, which concentrate on Disney only franchises, the Paramount park will feature franchises from outside the Paramount field, including but not limited to the BBC, Aardman Animations and the British Film Institute’s back catalogue.  Franchises including the likes of Mission Impossible, Sherlock, The Italian Job, Star Trek, Spooks, Dr Who, Wallace and Gromit, The Godfather, Shaun the Sheep and huge amount more. I understand that over seventy five percent of the rides will be indoors, as the operators know how unreliable British weather can be – this was a mistake made by Disney when they opened Disneyland Paris – they merely built a copy of their Florida theme park in mainland France, and most of the rides were in the open, which meant empty rides when it rained.  The Paramount park will have 1,500 seat theatre for ‘West End quality shows’, exhibition, conference and gig space, 5,000 hotel rooms, a cinema and nightclubs, restaurants and bars and a giant water park. As I have previously featured, the park will have a massive economic and social impact on the entire South East region.  The developers confidently expect that the park would attract around 10 million visitors in the first year and around 15 million a year by the fifth, when there’s more on offer. By way of comparison, Thorpe Park pulls in about 2.5million visitors a year.  Paramount will also be open 365 days a year. The park will also offer a lot of well-paying permanent jobs – several sets of figures have been bandied about over the last couple of years, but at least twenty thousand full time permanent roles will be created. It won’t just be people wearing furry animal suits either – the park will need electricians, cleaners, maintenance people, accountants and administrators. It will in essence be a new town in itself, and it is anticipated that many of the park workers will live in the forthcoming Ebbsfleet Garden City. Whilst the plans for the Paramount London theme park have not yet been signed off, my sources tell me that it is going to be a formality – the level of unemployment in Kent is above the national average in many areas, and a prime wealth and job creating enterprise of this nature will get the nod from the Government. Time will no doubt tell.

I had quite an unexpected response to my article about curry houses that I published last week; I must admit that I did not think the piece would provoke the level of interest that it has. Several regular readers were curious as to how I acquired my knowledge of Indian restaurants. Well that is actually very simple. For several years I was a reviewer for The Good Curry Guide, and regularly wrote articles for the (now discontinued) Curry Club magazine. You can see a reproduction of a couple of reviews above that I had published almost exactly twenty years ago – a fact that becomes clear when you see the price of the dishes I reviewed! £2.95 for Chicken Vindaloo is something you won’t see nowadays. I would anonymously visit curry houses and review them as a normal customer – the only restaurant that ever found out that I was a curry house critic was Sweet and Spicy in Brick Lane, where I was a regular. They saw my glowing review, photocopied and enlarged it, and posted it in their front window, next to their “Time Out” best cheap eats award. The owner Omar Bhutt, came over to my table one day and asked me outright if the review had been written by me. I could not lie, and I admitted it. From that day onwards, I always got free extras like a couple of samosas or a gratis cup of tea, which was very welcome, as my visits were at lunchtime. The restaurant was a victim to the bout of gentrification that hit Brick Lane a couple of years ago, and it is now a fried chicken outlet; a sad end to one of the earliest Indian restaurants in Brick Lane – it opened in 1969, and was the only place in London that served curry for breakfast – it was an East End legend. You can read more about the place by clicking here. The Curry Club magazine ceased publication some years ago, and I very rarely eat out nowadays, so my hobby of curry critic is now no more. One of the few times I will visit a curry house is after the annual visit to the Bexley Beer Festival in Old Bexley, which coincidentally is scheduled for next weekend:-

Readers should be worried about their personal information that is being stored and accessed by the National Health Service; a recent independent report states that healthcare providers, including the NHS are likely to still be using Windows XP – an operating system that has been unsupported since the middle of 2014. Researchers from security consultancy Duo found that healthcare devices were significantly more out of date and less secure than ones from finance, after comparing its healthcare customers' devices to its finance customers' equipment. Healthcare has a four times greater density of Windows XP computers compared to finance. Windows XP has been unsupported by Microsoft since 2014 and unsupported OSes do not receive any software patches or updates, making them an easy target for attackers. The risk is far from theoretical. For example, earlier this year Melbourne Health’s networks were infected with malware after an attack compromised the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s pathology department, which was running Windows XP. The Qbot malware linked to the infection is capable of stealing passwords and logging keystrokes. A significant minority (three per cent) of Duo’s installed base is stuck on Windows XP, which compares to one per cent of users across Duo’s entire client base. Across that customer base, finance has 50 per cent more instances of computers running on the Windows 10 operating system than healthcare. Twice as many healthcare endpoints have Flash installed and three times as many healthcare customers have Java installed on their devices, again putting them at greater risk of vulnerabilities and exploitation, as both Java and Flash are relatively easy to find security vulnerabilities in – and are often the first point a hacker will try and exploit. A separate study from IBM last week warned that crooks were increasingly targeting healthcare concerns rather than banks partly because systems were more weakly defended. Stolen healthcare info contains personal data that is readily marketed through underground forums because it offers the collateral to carry out identity fraud and other scams – a classic case of “low hanging fruit”. In a similar vein, the susceptibility of bank cash machines to malicious exploitation of ATMs in particular is due to the widespread use of outdated and insecure software, mistakes in network configuration, and a lack of physical security for critical components of ATMs. For many years, the biggest threat to the customers and owners of ATMs were skimmers – special devices attached to an ATM in order to steal PINs and data on bank card magnetic stripes. However, as malicious techniques have evolved, ATMs have been exposed to a greater range of dangers. In 2014, IT security specialist Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered Tyupkin – one of the first widely known examples of malware for ATMs – and in 2015, they uncovered the Carbanak gang, which among other things was capable of jackpotting (completely emptying of cash) ATMs through compromised banking infrastructures. Both examples of attack were possible due to the exploitation of several common weaknesses in ATM technology and in the infrastructure that supports them. In an effort to put together a more complete picture, Kaspersky Lab security penetration testing specialists looked at software and physical security weaknesses that leave cash machines open to looting. Malware attacks against ATMs are possible due to two main security shortcomings: 1) ATMs are essentially PCs running very old versions of operating systems, such as Windows XP. 2) In the vast majority of cases, the special software that allows the ATM's PC to interact with banking infrastructure and hardware units, processing cash and credit cards, is based on the XFS standard. This is a rather old and insecure technology specification, originally created in order to standardize ATM software so that it can work on any equipment, regardless of manufacturer. The XFS specification requires no authorisation for the commands it processes, meaning that any app installed or launched on the ATM can issue commands to any other ATM hardware unit, including the card reader and cash dispenser. That means if malware successfully infects an ATM, it inherits almost unlimited control capabilities. It can turn the PIN pad and card reader into a 'native' skimmer or just give away all the money stored in the ATM, upon a command from a hacker," the Kaspersky Lab research team warns. Physical security is, if anything, even weaker. The lack of physical security for the ATMs themselves makes criminal hacking possible without any recourse to malware needed. ATMs are often constructed and installed in a way that means a third party can easily gain access to the PC inside the cash machine, or to the network cable connecting the machine to the internet. By gaining even partial physical access to an ATM, criminals can potentially install a specially programmed microcomputer (a so-called black box), which will give attackers remote access to the ATM. Reconnecting the ATM to a rogue processing centre is also possible. Criminals are able to exploit insecurities in the network communication between the ATM and the banking infrastructure thanks in part to a lack of secondary controls, such as VPNs and authentication. The results of the security research show that even though vendors are now trying to develop ATMs with strong security features, many banks are still using old insecure models.  This makes them unprepared for criminals actively challenging the security of these devices. This is today's reality that causes banks and their customers huge financial losses. It would seem that cyber-criminals are not just interested in cyber-attacks against internet banking – they are increasingly turning their hands toward direct attacks. They see the value in exploiting ATM vulnerabilities because a direct attack against such devices significantly shortens their route to real money. You can be certain that any losses experienced by the banks will trickle down to customers in the form of higher interest rates and increased service charges, so it is most timely to find this to be of serious concern.

Since I covered the story of the huge fire at the Europa Industrial Estate in the early 1980’s, I have had some fascinating feedback from readers. Local Historian Ken Chamberlain sent me the aerial photograph that you can see above – click on it for a larger view. It shows the devastation left once the fire burned itself out. I am guessing that the photo may well have been commissioned on behalf of the loss adjusters working for the insurance company that insured the warehouses. The site is so large that an aerial photo would be the only way to really assess the extent of the damage. Nowadays it could be done far more quickly and cheaply by an aerial drone, but back in the day it would have had to be done by a light plane. Maggot Sandwich reader and retired firefighter Alan Magin was one of the team who tackled the blaze. He recalls:- "My recollection was that we made up the attendance from Greenwich, as we had the 100' turntable ladders. It was impossible trying to put it out, as the corrugated metal roof covered the combustible materials. I remember a plastics factory was also involved, melting its produce into the drains, so they needed replacing in the rebuild. What was handy though was the floating pontoon at the Erith Deep Water site. It was a case of relay pumping, from an appliance on the pontoon, as in effect we always had water! A senior officers decision no doubt, a good one if you ask me. Rather than use fresh water from the hydrants. I think the damping down operation lasted a week. It was interesting to hear you say the fire started in a paper warehouse with perhaps reeled paper? for newsprint maybe? If these reels got anywhere near damp they started to expand/unwind creating heat, hence the spontaneous combustion.  I attended a slightly larger fire at one of Mr Murdoch's warehouses in Grove St, Deptford, that one was started deliberately. I think he might have upset a few people!  Incidentally, I was shot up again on our 100' turntable ladder, (I must have been a glutton for punishment) only to be told by the operator to come down immediately. After my descent (walking down) the operator in his excitement had forgotten to put out the manual jacks to stabilise the appliance!!! I still think what might have happened if he had tried to manoeuvre the ladder? I might not have been here writing to you!"

It is that time of year again; the Friends of Riverside Gardens Erith (FORGE) are working in partnership with the environmental charity Thames 21 and volunteer groups including the Army Cadets to carry out their annual river cleanup on Sunday the 8th May. Volunteers are invited to join the work - protective clothing will be provided, and you get a free lunch. I will be going along to provide encouragement and to take some photos for future publication. Do come along to help clear the shopping trollies and other detritus out of the river.

At work, I, like many unfortunate people get quite a large number of unsolicited sales calls. The company switchboard are pretty good at filtering them out, but nevertheless a fair number do manage to get through. My normal technique is just to slam the phone down immediately. I was looking around online for a possible better solution when I came across this:- "I get 20 sales calls a day at least, as our organization is relatively large. All of them are unsolicited, and they use shady tactics to make it past the receptionist. So yesterday, in the middle of a team meeting, an emergency call came through the IT support hotline, interrupting our meeting. One of our help desk guys picks up and it's a sales guy claiming that he had just been chatting with me, the IT Director, and wanted to be transferred through so he could "finish the conversation." This was obviously untrue, as I had just arrived in the office, and I don't take sales calls. The help desk guy asked if I wanted him passed through to my voicemail, and I said: "I'd prefer that you transfer them straight to hell instead. In fact, we should have a special queue called Hell, playing the most obnoxious music over and over again." The guys start joking: "It could be playing Barney." "It could be playing 'The Song that Never Ends'." "It could be playing a detuned or desynchronized version of a Smash Mouth song." Our seasoned help desk veteran says: "I have just the thing!" and plays the most awful song I've heard in my life. Everything in the department stops, and then everyone busts out laughing. We are actually a well-oiled IT team – we've worked together for years. My background is in film soundtracks and audio production, and my senior network admin's is in broadcast radio audio engineering. We edited and snipped the audio, pitched shifted a few things, and generally set out to make the worst recording ever. Once finished, we uploaded it to the phone server and created the queue to repeat eternally. We assigned it extension number 666. Once in the queue, any button you press once in this queue restarts the recording. Our new department policy is: when sales people call they are to be transferred straight to hell". You can hear the wait music and message from hell by clicking here. Make sure you have your headphone / speaker volume turned down! You have been warned. 

You may in the past recall me bemoaning the audio quality of DAB radio broadcasts in the UK - due mainly to the fact that they DAB transmission standard employed in the UK is for the most part archaic. A DAB audio signal is encoded in MP2 (the ancestor to today’s MP3 format). The newer and more efficient DAB+ audio signal is encoded in aacPlus (strictly, aacPlus HE v2). Your iPod / iPhone uses AAC as standard; aacPlus uses a number of clever techniques to make it more efficient, so audio sounds better at lower bitrates. Roughly, 48kbps DAB+ sounds the same as a 128kbps DAB signal. A DAB+ audio signal also includes slightly better error correction, which might mean a reduction in 'bubbling mud' distortion when the signal drops, or other problems in poor reception areas. Apart from that, there are no differences. DAB+ and DAB use the same transmitters, same multiplexing equipment, and so on, and DAB and DAB+ signals can happily live on the same DAB multiplex. A DAB+ radio will also happily decode DAB signals as well (although a DAB radio won’t decode DAB+). Many DAB radios on sale today will cope with DAB+ automatically, or will prompt you with instructions on how to upgrade (which could be as easy as typing a code in, or downloading some new firmware). Any radio with a Digital Radio tickmark will cope with DAB+. DAB+ is now the standard way to launch new DAB services, and is in use in, among other places, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, and many more. The main benefit is that you can get many more channels onto a typical DAB multiplex. The UK has no plans to move from DAB to DAB+. While DAB+ services are now appearing in the UK, there are no plans to switch the majority of radio broadcasting over to DAB+: not yet, anyway. There have been a lot of DAB sets sold in the UK. DAB sets are in over half of all households here, and generally we don’t replace radios as fast as any other entertainment equipment (like a TV, a set-top box, or a mobile phone). Given this, it is unlikely that the UK will be switching to DAB+ any time soon, and there are no plans to make that change. DAB+ doesn’t automatically mean better audio in comparison to DAB Some of the main proponents of DAB+ in this country want it because they think it’ll result in better-sounding audio. It probably will not; The main benefits to radio listeners from DAB+ will be additional choice, not enhanced sound quality. (That said, DAB+ normally means stereo is available at bitrates formerly only used for mono, so there is that.) Because the UK was an early adopter of DAB, we have been stuck with what is now a mostly out of date transmission infrastructure. No wonder take - up of DAB is far below the expectations of OFCOM

As you may have read in the London Evening Standard and elsewhere, there are plans to open a new terminal for cruise liners at Enderby's Wharf in Greenwich. Up to fifty passenger liners will sail past Erith on their way up the River Thames to Greenwich every year once the new terminal is opened. It will be a real treat for the ship spotters that you see on Erith Pier from time to time. What it will not be a treat for is the residents of the area surrounding Enderby Wharf. The cruise liners will need to run their auxiliary generators to generate power whilst docked, as the development plans don't include clean shoreside mains power in their scope. This week A powerful committee of MPs stepped into a row over plans to let cruise ships spew diesel fumes day and night in the heart of London. The cross-party group of MPs ruled: “Planning permissions for new shipping facilities must require appropriate mitigation measures from developers. This should include, where practicable, a requirement to provide infrastructure to supply electricity to ships at berth.” Whether this will in any way influence the developers is currently uncertain. Providing clean, shoreside power would be an expensive option, but to my mind is the only way forward. Air pollution on the Greenwich peninsula is already running at unacceptable levels, and cruise liners running on auxiliary generators would only make things far worse.  You can watch a BBC London news report on the situation below. Feel free to leave a comment, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. Morrison's riverside site at Erith is perfect for rebuilding the store with housing above overlooking the Thames, along with a re-positioned cafe (or other business) with riverside views.

    Some may say the view of the north bank isn't great but it'd still be a pleasant place to live and enjoy a coffee. As Morrisons hold the freehold of their stores (I believe) they are sitting on un-realised potential to make money. And the additional flats above a store are almost guaranteed extra custom for the company. Same at Thamesmead.

    As for Paramount park - the sooner the better! They continually bang on about Ebbsfleet station but are overlooking Swanscombe station. It will be directly beside the planned main entrance. Many south of the Thames would probably use that - it'll be the same time and less money than HS1. It currently only has 2 trains an hour stopping there but at least 2 others pass through (4 at times) potentially meaning 6 trains an hour. A turn-up-and-go service for many to use it. But I get the impression all the planning is going into HS1 services.