Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Woolwich.

It would appear that the controversial proposal to build a giant freight rail interchange and warehousing on Crayford Marshes (see the marsh photo above - click on it for a larger view) has hit some serious opposition - and this time it is not just local environmental groups, as has previously been mentioned. This time, despite planning permission being granted by Bexley Council, Dartford Council, which shares jurisdiction regarding the site has blocked the development, due mainly to serious concerns over traffic levels, in addition to worries about the impact on wildlife. The application to build a new freight rail interchange on green belt Crayford Marshes was rejected at a planning committee meeting, despite being approved by Bexley Council earlier this year. The developers cannot build without approval from both local authorities. In an interview with the News Shopper earlier this week, Councillor Keith Kelly, Dartford’s cabinet member for transport and infrastructure, said he welcomed the decision. He said: “8,000 new vehicles on a road that is a pinch point would have been a nightmare for our residents living on the Bridge estate. For them, someone only has to sneeze at Dartford crossing and the backed up traffic means they can’t get of their estate. We already have well documented traffic problems on that site, and this would not help that. Air pollution and traffic are a big thing for us. The applicants can either appeal or apply again once the Lower Thames Crossing is here and we hopefully will have less freight and heavy goods traffic.” Concerns were previously raised about the impact new railways and warehousing would have on the wildlife at Crayford Marshes. I don't think that this issue is completely dead and buried yet; there may well be future developments. Time will tell.

You may have seen links on social media sites, and fake web pages purporting to be from UK newspapers such as the one shown above. You can clearly see that this is yet another "get rich quick" scam using in this case Alan Sugar as a promoter - without any permission or actual involvement from him - a classic "fake news" case. The "get rich quick" scam is this time around called The Orion Code. What does it claim to be? A secretive new trading system that will all but guarantee instant wealth. What is it really? One of a large number of get-rich-quick schemes trying to promote a binary options trading platform using false promises and guarantees of wealth, as well as using many misleading advertising techniques. If you’ve come across something called “The Orion Code”, you may have stumbled upon it through one of many different channels. It could have been a “sponsored post” on Facebook about how a teenager got rich using secret trading software, or it could have been promoted through fake news websites purporting it to be some underground wealth system covertly created by millionaire Lord Alan Sugar. Or it could have been something else. However it got your attention, everyone is funnelled through to the same sales video. A man gets on his private jet accompanied by his own staff all wearing uniforms adorned with the “Orion Code” logo. The man tells you that he has got an opportunity for you – an opportunity that will cost you nothing, but can offer you everything. We have heard it all before. It’s a get-rich-quick scam, constantly telling you that it will cost you nothing, right up until the point it asks you to enter your credit card details. It is actually a scheme promoting a binary options broker. The scheme wants you to sign up and start trading with binary options using their “preferred” broker who – according to their sales hype – will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. In reality it doesn’t work like that. Any scheme that has to use fake news articles, fake endorsements, fake “limited spaces available” countdowns, hired actors and a variety of contradicting advertisements as to what “The Orion Code” actually is isn’t likely to turn out to be something legitimate. In fact, “The Orion Code” is just a new variant of an older – but extremely similar – scam called “The Quantum Code“. Binary Options Trading is an extremely risky method of trading that asks investors to predict whether a specific stock will rise or fall in a short period of time. Predict being the operative word, since there really is no reliable way of determining if a stock will rise and fall over a short period of time. If you get it right, you get a return. Get it wrong and lose your investment. Basically, it is gambling. This means schemes purporting to offer secret systems or software that can make you rich with binary options are akin to those dodgy systems claiming you can beat online casinos. Binary Options Trading is a largely unregulated form of investment and as such those who use them can potentially be cheated out of their investments. Those spammers behind “The Orion Code” will receive commissions for each person they send to their “preferred” binary options broker. Be warned - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Something that I have only been made aware of in the last few days is the Royal Arsenal Narrow Gauge Railway Group - a part of The Crossness Engines Trust. They have been campaigning for some years to get the old steam railway connection to the Crossness Pumping Station up and working again, using a vintage steam engine, The Woolwich, which you can see above - click on the photo for a larger view. The locomotive was originally a working part of the Royal Arsenal site, the 1,300 acre ammunition factory formerly adjacent to the Crossness Pumping Station.  In the future, the 'Crossness Experience' will begin the second the visitor steps onto the platform, with the sights and smells of the steam train transporting visitors directly to the colossal beam engines next to the Thames.  Since 1916, The Woolwich has had a diverse career as a steam locomotive. Originally dark green and built in Bristol for the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, the engine hauled ammunition around the expansive site. For those who don't remember, the Royal Arsenal was a bustling city within a city, with factories employing thousands and houses for the workers and their families. After retirement from active duty, The Woolwich took Bicton Woodland Railway passengers for a ride from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. The Woolwich was then purchased by The Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey, forming a part of their significant collection of steam locomotive history.  The Royal Arsenal Narrow Gauge Railway Group made following announcement at the end of last week:- "We are excited to announce that planning permission has been granted by the London Borough of Bexley for "the installation of a Narrow Gauge Railway and modifications to an existing building for use as depot facilities for the railway". Ref no. 16/02241/FUL. Ahead of us we have a major fundraising challenge to cover the purchase of track materials including 1400 metres of rail, 600 timber sleepers, drive screws, fishplates, and the track bed preparation and ballast, before the track laying can commence. We need to recruit able volunteers for the exciting and challenging task of constructing a new build 18 inch narrow gauge railway, so close to the track of the iconic Royal Arsenal Railway. Railway volunteers are at Crossness Engines Trust in Abbey Wood, South East London, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Come and see us". This is all excellent news; it is good to see that part of the rich industrial and engineering heritage is not only being preserved, but opened to the public. 

There was a second serious incident in Manor Road, Erith this week. You may recall that last week I featured a story about a man being stabbed in the head at the junction of Bilton Road and Manor Road, and that the Police managed to catch the attacker. Well the emergency services were in action again last Tuesday morning, when they got called to almost exactly the same location - just another hundred or so metres further East along Manor Road, close the entrance to Erith Yacht Club, where there was large fire - around two tonnes of fly tipped rubbish, along with two derelict boats and some suspected gas cylinders were ablaze. Eye witness reports that eight fire engines, specialist incident control vehicles and nearly sixty fire fighters were in attendance for much of the day. the demands on the water supply used to extinguish the blaze were such that the domestic water pressure dropped so low as to be useless for several hours for residents in Manor Road,  the Frobisher Road Estate and the surrounding areas. A planned brew by The Bexley Brewery had to be abandoned due to the lack of available water, but most importantly the fire was put out with no explosions from the gas cylinders. The last emergency vehicle did not leave the site until around 6.45pm. I am told that the blaze was arson - the fly tippers set light to their dumped load to prevent any investigation from determining the origin of the illegally dumped load. I fear that setting fire to fly tipped materials may become more common as local council crack down on the criminals who carry out such offences - and the criminals respond by trying to cover their tracks by burning the waste. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

A regular Maggot Sandwich reader, and occasional contributor brought something very interesting to my attention on Wednesday; it would seem that Bexley Council are launching a consultation document regarding the future growth strategy for the London Borough of Bexley. The summary f the strategy proposal reads thus:- "Good growth will be secured by focussing new residential development on a series of well connected public transport nodes, making the most of Bexley’s riverside location and industrial heritage. Core industrial areas retained for employment uses will be improved and intensified, fostering the growing Maker Movement. The borough’s valued suburban heartland and quality open spaces will be preserved and enhanced. Shopping, culture and leisure facilities will be vibrant, supported by innovative industries and businesses. A new neighbourhood will be created in Belvedere growing out from a potential new Crossrail station, accommodating more than 8,000 homes focussed on a public transport interchange and a new town centre that will include a luxury outlet shopping destination, with the area generating up to 3,500 new jobs. Erith will provide the opportunity to deliver an exciting and well-connected urban riverfront destination of at least 6,000 new homes, with the area supporting over 2,000 new jobs through a shift to new engineering and manufacturing activities associated with the Maker Movement. Situated next to one of London’s remaining marshlands along the River Thames, Slade Green will be transformed into a high quality, neighbourhood with a new local town centre set around a potential new Crossrail station and access to outstanding recreational spaces, delivering 8,000 new homes and 1,000 new jobs. Thamesmead will provide more than 4,000 new homes and 5,000 new jobs, triggered by the Housing Zone and a new Crossrail station and supported by local transport improvements, a new local centre at Abbey Wood station and with better access to green and digital infrastructure. Bexleyheath will remain as the borough’s strategic shopping and civic centre, and the hub of its bus network, enabling a thriving and diverse daytime and night time economy. An enhanced leisure offer and over 1,500 new dwellings and 1,500 new jobs will be created. Welling lies along the same Roman road as Bexleyheath and will be revitalised through a consolidation of the shopping area and more housing, providing 400 new homes and 800 new jobs. Sidcup will capitalise on its performing arts assets and new student population by making the area the focus for high quality leisure and cultural activities, supported by a vibrant high street and boutique hotels. Modest housing and commercial growth, amounting to over 400 homes and 1,000 jobs, will ensure that the area continues to thrive. Neighbouring Foots Cray will provide the opportunity for expansion of the Thames Estuary Production Corridor, creating a further 1,000 jobs. Crayford will provide the opportunity to consolidate and redefine the town centre, opening up the north of the area to more than 1,000 new high quality homes with increased access to a more naturalised River Cray. Employment will remain important to Crayford, with uses consolidated to the east, delivering 1,000 additional jobs". You can read the full proposal documentation by clicking here.  Whilst on initial examination, the proposal sounds good, there are some gaping holes in it; mainly where the report authors have made some assumptions. Firstly that an extension to the Crossrail line that currently terminates at Abbey Wood will get approved, meaning that Crossrail will go all the way down into Kent, through Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green, and on down to the forthcoming Paramount Theme Park. At this point the extension has been discussed, but no funding or government sponsorship has been agreed. The whole idea of a new town centre and retail park in Lower Belvedere is at this stage nothing but a gigantic gamble. There are also issue with any new town centre taking footfall and business from nearby places such as Nuxley Road in Upper Belvedere, Northumberland Heath and Erith. we have already seen this effect with Bluewater seriously affecting the trade in Dartford - something that will only get worse with the forthcoming expansion of the already giant shopping centre. More on this important issue in the weeks to come. 

An anniversary happened recently that very few people know about, yet it is one that is rather more significant and important than many would actually realise. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum is thirty five years old this week. Why should the anniversary of an old 8 - bit home computer be so important nowadays? Well, the careers of many now leading software developers and game designers were launched back in the early 1980's when as children they learned to program using the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Modern video games such as the Grand Theft Auto series might look American, but were actually produced in the UK. British software programmers are regarded as some of the best in the world, and many of them first learned their trade by programming their ZX Spectrums in darkened bedrooms back in the 1980's. The British software industry owes a huge debt to the "Speccy". Even when it was launched back in April 1983, the Spectrum was no real technological marvel; compared with its competitors, the BBC Model B, the Commodore 64, ot the Atari 800XL the Spectrum was no great technical shakes, and many playground arguments could be heard as fans of each computer could be heard arguing that their machine had the best hardware specifications - I know, I certainly had many such heated discussions. What we all failed to understand at the time was that any computer was only as good as the software and third party hardware that was available for it. In this respect the ZX Spectrum truly excelled. It had indisputably the widest selection of software and add - on hardware of any eight bit home computer by a very wide margin indeed. The story of the development of the Spectrum is a complex and fascinating one. Clive Sinclair's previous microcomputer, the ZX81, had been launched just over a year before, on 5 March 1981, and had proved a huge success. By December of that year, Sinclair Research had shifted a quarter of a million of the monochrome micros. But Commodore's Vic-20, which shipped in May 1981 after a late 1980 launch, had already heralded colour computing and it was clear to the Sinclair team that their next machine must be colour capable. Trading colour for a low price was acceptable in 1981. It would not be so in 1982. Likewise, the new machine would need a proper, moving keyboard like those offered by almost all of its rivals, not another low-cost membrane keyboard like those of the ZX80 and ZX81. A programmer called Steve Vickers, who had worked on the internal ROM on the Spectrum's predecessor, the ZX 81 had hoped to rewrite the Basic language for the Spectrum to make it run more efficiently, and therefore faster, but it was not to be. Clive Sinclair's tight schedule made this impossible. Vickers' views were ultimately justified: Basic programs ran slowly on the Spectrum. "The Basic is slow," wrote Computing Today in August 1982. "Well, 'snail-like' would be a better description. The last test was done with a loop of 100 instead of 1000 as I thought that you might like to read the review before the Christmas holidays."Making a clear leap forward from the ZX81's 1KB of memory, the Spectrum was offered with a choice of 16KB or 48KB Ram. The former, intended as the budget choice, was priced at £125; the 48KB Spectrum was £175. That was expensive in comparison with the sub-£100 ZX81, but impressively cheap when set alongside the £399 32KB BBC Micro Model B, launched the previous December. Like the ZX81 before it and many other UK home computers, the Spectrum fed its video output through a radio frequency modulator to the aerial socket of and colour or monochrome TV. The computer's ten-octave, single-voice sound was pumped through an on-board speaker, quickly leading to a booming market in warranty voiding plug-in sound chips that relayed the audio out to the TV through the modulator signal. The Spectrum was initially capable of presenting a 32 x 24 grid of alphanumerical and block-graphic characters or a 256 × 192 pixel screen for graphics. Dots and characters could be black or any of seven colours - blue, red, purple, green, cyan, yellow and white - each set to one of two possible brightness values - giving 15 hues in all. The Spectrum's keyboard was its arguably most divisive component, engendering either love or hate in potential buyers. Clive Sinclair had promised a fully moving keyboard, leading many observers and punters to hope for a typewriter-style keyboard. But that would have made the Spectrum much larger than it was, and that was not the Sinclair way. When Spectrums began to land in users' hands, they keyboard would surprise many of them with its use of soft rubber keys uncharitably described at the time as offering the feel of "dead flesh". Nevertheless, sales proved to be exceedingly strong. Demand surged beyond Sinclair's planned 20,000-units-a-month output, leading to a backlog of 30,000 orders by July 1982, a month after the Spectrum began to ship, itself a month and a half after the machine's launch. That month, the UK government included the 48KB Spectrum on a list of computers approved for secondary school use - the others were the BBC Model B and the Research Machines BBC-esque 480Z - with grants to enable them to buy the machines. Through the Summer of 1982, thanks to a holiday at contract manufacturer Timex's Dundee plant, where the Spectrum was being assembled, the backlog grew to 40,000 units. Maybe education viewed the Spectrum as too entertainment-oriented, or perhaps the order backlog simply prevented schools getting hold of all the machines they would like. Either way, Sinclair never made much of a dent on the education market, eventually drumming up a tiny, two per cent share. The technically superior but much more expensive at £399 BBC Model B computer became the de facto standard in UK education. Nevertheless the Spectrum sold incredibly strongly to home users - mainly due to the keen price and the wide array of software available for the machine. By the time Sinclair had upped production, probably with the arrival of the less costly Issue 2 motherboard, some 60,000 Spectrums had shipped. A further 500,000 Issue 2 machines would ship through the remainder of 1982 and well into 1983, the vast majority of them sold direct by Sinclair itself, some 200,000 by the end of March 1983. Issue 3 added a further three million units to the overall total, though by now High Street shops like WH Smith, Boots, Currys and John Menzies were selling the Spectrum too. For the year to 31 March 1983, Sinclair announced sales totalling £54.53m, earning it £13.8m in profit. In May 1983, Sinclair cut the price of the 16KB Spectrum to £99.95 and the 48KB model to £129.95. In July, Timex began selling an own-brand version of the Spectrum in the US, the TS-1500, licensed from Sinclair. In November, it released the Timex TS-2068, with a completely new case design. But sales proved poor and the company collapsed in 1984. Relatively wealthy Americans never really took to the Spectrum - they moved straight to Apple II's and IBM PC's, despite the hugely increased hardware costs relating to those high - end computers. By mid-1984 the once seemingly unstoppable Spectrum was starting to run out of steam in the UK too. Sinclair had tried and spectacularly failed to enter the business computing market with the Motorola 68000-based Sinclair QL, had commanded all of Sinclair's product development resources, leaving no room for work on a true Spectrum successor for the home market. So the Spectrum was tweaked again: a new, more rectangular, QL-style casing with hard plastic keys, creating the Spectrum+. With no other changes to the core Spectrum specification and a higher price - £179.95 - customers were not overwhelmed by the new Spectrum+ when it went on sale in October 1984. To make matters worse, Sinclair's quality control slipped (again) leading to high failure rates. If the Spectrum+ you bought worked, there was still a good chance one of more of the keys would come loose and fall off. Still, the Spectrum+ kept the brand alive through to February 1986 and the arrival of the Spectrum+ 128, which was, again, a regular Spectrum in a new case but this time with 128KB of Ram; MIDI output and three-channel sound courtesy of a new audio chip; an RS-232 port; and the ability to output to a monitor. And a big, very hot heat sink bolted onto the side. Memory switching hardware ensured the Z80A CPU could flip between the two banks of 64KB making up the 128's memory map. It also had to handle switching between two 16KB banks of Rom, one for the original Spectrum ROM, the other for a new 128 Basic interpreter. Sinclair at this stage were in serious financial trouble - the failed QL, the failed pocket television and the spectacular failure of the Sinclair C5 left the company exposed, and Clive Sinclair ended up selling the entire enterprise to Alan Sugar in 1986, as without this he risked being declared bankrupt by his creditors. Amstrad killed off the Spectrum 128 but maintained the Plus, understanding the benefit of a low-cost machine with a huge catalogue of games software behind it. Early in 1987, Amstrad released the Spectrum +2, a 128 with a new design featuring, as per the CPC series, a built-in cassette deck. It also removed the single-key Basic instruction entry system, a Sinclair trademark going back to the ZX80. Like the Plus, the Plus 2 was sold as a games machine - joysticks and a stack of games were bundled with the computer - pure and simple. Having opted for a 3in, 350KB diskette system for its PCW-8256 word processor, launched in September 1985, and acquired a job lot of the non-standard storage media, Amstrad put a 3in diskette drive into a tweaked Spectrum +2 and released in it 1987 as the Spectrum +3. Like the PCW series, it could run the CP/M operating system out of the box, thanks to internal tweaks but the Plus 3 was again sold solely as a games machine, which was a pity as there was some truly excellent business and scientific software available running under CP/M. Amstrad finally ended Spectrum production in 1990, though some sites put the date at 1988. Either way, the Plus 3 was the last home computer to carry the name. Nevertheless, fans of the ZX Spectrum continue to this day, and new software titles are still being produced for the ancient computer. On top of this, several new projects to create a new version of the Spectrum or in operation, which may or may not come to fruition. To my mind the most interesting and potentially successful projects is the ZX Spectrum Next - a modern, much more powerful interpretation of the Spectrum for a new audience. It is a proper new hardware implementation, not just an emulator. You can see a photo of a prototype of the ZX Spectrum Next below, and you can read all about it here. I don't know about you, but I really want one! You can see the ZX Spectrum Next Facebook site by clicking here. Many of the team who worked on the original Spectrum series of computers are working on this new project. Let me know what you think - leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at

The ending video is a short film explaining the ZX Spectrum Next, what it is, what it is not, and how you can go about getting one. They should be on general sale by January of next year. Interestingly the fundraising Kickstarter campaign begun for the funding to transform the prototype ZX Spectrum Next machines into a fully commercialised product for open sale gathered its full funding within 24 hours of going online. There are a huge number of enthusiasts more than happy to back the project, which looks to be very promising indeed. Watch the video below and do provide feedback via the normal links.

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