Sunday, May 10, 2020

Chic not Geek.

There has been much traffic on local social media over the last couple of weeks regarding fraudulent use of cash machines - more properly named ATM's - short for Automatic Teller Machines. The ATM's most featured in the discussions are those located outside of Morrison's supermarket in Erith - as pictured above - click on the image for a larger view. I do not know how accurate some of the claims relating to ATM fraud are in this specific case. As many of you will know, my opinion of much of the information published on Facebook groups is very poor indeed. I go by the maxim that many of these groups, which are generally very well meaning, quite often don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. It has been alleged that the ATM's outside of Morrison's have, on a number of recent occasions been tampered with by crooks in order to gain cards, PIN numbers and ultimately cash. Whilst I have no way of verifying the specific claims in this particular case, there are some general rules in relation to using an ATM safely. One of the main ways the criminals fraudulently exploit ATM's is by installing a card skimmer on the ATM. So what exactly is a card skimming machine, and what does it do? A type of fraud which occurs when an ATM is compromised by a skimming device, a card reader which can be disguised to look like a part of the machine. The card reader saves the users' card number and pin code, which is then replicated into a counterfeit copy for theft. ATM skimming is like identity theft for debit cards: Thieves use hidden electronics to steal the personal information stored on your card and record your PIN number to withdraw cash or they illegally copy your account details from the chip or magnetic strip on your credit or debit card when you use an ATM. The fraudster then uses your details to create a fake or ‘cloned’ card to withdraw money from any ATM. The fraud requires two pieces of information, and they have to be gathered separately.  Firstly the scammer needs the card ID details, which used to be stored on the cards magnetic strip, but nowadays in most countries (including the UK) are more commonly stored on the card's embedded chip. A card reader placed over the ATM's real card slot. When you slide your card into the ATM, you are unwittingly sliding it through the counterfeit reader, which scans and stores all the information on the chip. However, to gain full access to your bank account on an ATM, the thieves still need your PIN number. That is where cameras come in - hidden on or near the ATM, tiny spy cameras are positioned to get a clear view of the keypad and record all the ATM's PIN action. The Police advise that users always pay attention to objects mounted on the ATM or located close by. A pinhole or off-colour piece of plastic could give away the camera's hiding place. Some ATM skimming schemes employ fake keypads in lieu of cameras to capture PIN numbers. Just like the card skimmers fit over the ATM's true card slot, skimming keypads are designed to mimic the keypad's design and fit over it like a glove. Be warned.

Following on from the ATM fraud story above, I have been sent another story regarding Morrison's at Erith by a regular reader, and occasional contributor who chooses to remain anonymous. They write:- "C19 has taken everyone by surprise, one day everyone was carrying out their business, the next day we had police riot vans driving around Bexley shadowing the seriousness of the pandemic. The supermarkets had been performing a great job at first, they were quick to enforce distancing and installed suitable protections for staff and customers. Unfortunately roughly a week or so ago I queued up for my usual shop. It was surprisingly busy, far too many people in the shop despite security supposedly regulating the number allowed in to the shop. Walking around it was almost as if it were a Sunday, 10 or so people in my aisle. It's a tricky situation as without some sort of organisation people will head to whatever product is next (ever see the meme where a council put a walkway across a park, only for everybody to take the shortest path? Same story). On my way out I was chatting with the checkout women, she was clearly quite shaken up and upset. She mirrored my concern at the sheer number of people in the shop, to the point she asked me to look down the aisle - people were more or less rubbing shoulders. Where this story really takes a turn, and it wasn't till the end of the conversation she mentioned it, an elderly lady had collapsed on her very till! This had only just happened, she told me the women had a fever and was clearly not well - an ambulance was called. It turns out her idiot son had taken her shopping despite supposedly isolating. It beggars belief they didn't close the till or even shut the store temporarily for cleaning. Now a week on things are not much different which is disappointing. I feel more effort should have been put into click and collect. Would it not have been better for each of the supermarkets to accept shopping lists where the staff can work more efficiently, safer and faster, over customers haphazardly wandering around the store (including myself)? I believe everyone has become complacent, forgetting that we are at the peak, not the end of this crisis. Anyone with a brain can see people are anxious and acting unusually, but we need to hold it together for a while longer." What do you think? Have you experienced any behaviour similar to that witnessed by our anonymous correspondent? Email me in complete confidence to

This week, back in 1998, Steve Jobs took to the stage of the Moscone Center in San Francisco for a product launch that would indelibly change the face of computing and arguably save the firm he founded almost 22 years earlier. The machine showcased at the MacWorld event was the iMac G3. It was, to put it gently, uncharacteristic for the era. As the wider industry churned out unremarkable beige boxes and towers, the iMac was colourful and appealing to non technical users. An advertising catchphrase was launched - "Chic, not Geek". By 1997 Apple was steadily losing money and market share after a series of failed product launches, including the Newton MessagePad. Experts predicted that it was not a question of if but rather when Apple would go out of business. Steve Jobs, who had recently found himself in the unlikely position as leader of  the company for the second time, was looking for an opportunity for growth, and he turned to the design of the company’s computer cases. Apple had long differentiated itself with its superior graphic performance and a devoted following, but it was producing beige box devices like every other PC on the market. Steve Jobs saw an opportunity to reinvent the notion of personal computing and, possibly, to save the company from collapse. Keeping in mind the rapid ascendancy of the Internet in the daily lives of computer users, Jobs and his team created a device that integrated Internet-ready technology with high-quality graphics performance and a futuristic all-in-one shell. The resulting computer was the iMac, which Apple released in May 1998. The iMac (the “i” initially stood for “Internet”), created under the direction of Apple staff designer Jonathan Ive, quickly became synonymous with sleek, sophisticated, and forward-thinking design. The iMac’s computing systems were integrated into one cohesive unit (harking back to the Macintosh), which subverted the beige plastic standard and was wrapped in a translucent white and aqua (famously called “Bondi” blue) shell. The iMac could be plugged into the wall and used immediately; it required no peripheral parts or connections other than a matching mouse, a keyboard, and an Internet cable. Despite a critically mixed reception and only middling sales numbers, the iMac was a design success and set the course of a new transparent plastic aesthetic in personal computing that can still be felt today.

Now for one of my occasional longer form pieces. Many classic film buffs will be very familiar with the actress photographed above - click on the image for a larger view. What very few know, is that as well as being a major film star in the golden age of Hollywood, she also had a remarkable second career. Please read on. Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on the 11th of September 1913 in the city of Vienna, Austria, at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. She married an industrialist called Fritz Mandl, and from him this highly intelligent young woman picked up a lot of information and gossip about the armaments industry with which he was involved in. Unlike her husband, who became enamoured of the Nazi party, Hedwig, who had already started doing some acting, left for London and then went on to Hollywood to take up acting. A swift name change soon followed and Hedy Lamarr was born. She had starred in some rather 'risque' movies, particularly Ecstasy, by the time that she and her musical arranger, George Antheil, found themselves at a dinner party one evening in 1940 thinking about the unfolding European war. The United States, then neutral, was developing a number of weapons that depended upon radio signals for guidance. Amongst these was a guided torpedo, which could be steered towards its target by a radio signal. However, there was a problem. Any radio guided missile had a weak link in that given adequate warning that such missiles were in use, Nazi scientists could easily produce a radio receiver that could be used by prospective targets to detect the signals used to control the missile or torpedo and then a transmitter could be used to jam the guidance system. Indeed, the jamming signal could be very simple - it might be enough to tune a transmitter to the signal frequency and just turn it on. As the missile approached the target, the controlling signal would be weakening with distance from the guiding plane or ship, while the jamming signal on the target would get stronger. Eventually it would overwhelm the guidance signal with the effect that the missile would effectively become a 'dumb' weapon and simply carry on in a straight line past the target. So, what could you do? Hedy was intelligent and resourceful. She quickly realised that if it were possible for the guidance signal to randomly change frequency, it would be difficult for the enemy to actually detect the signal in the first place, and virtually impossible for them to then transmit a jamming signal that would follow the guidance signal. This 'frequency hopping' would need to be random and fairly frequent, to prevent the enemy predicting which frequency would be used next. Changing the frequency of the transmitted signal on such a basis would be reasonably straightforward to achieve. What was more difficult, Lamarr realised, was making sure that the receiver on the missile or torpedo was able to synchronise itself with the transmitted signal so that as the transmitter changed frequency the receiver would change its receive frequency at the same time. Don't forget, by the way, that this was before the invention of the transistor. All radio communications depended upon valves, and the computer, even in its most rudimentary form, would not appear until three years later and would then occupy a whole room...not the stuff you could fit in the head of a torpedo no more than 600mm in diameter. The composer George Antheil was a friend and colleague of Lamarr's, and due in part to his background as a composer, he imagined that one possible solution to the problem of synchronising transmitter and receiver would be to incorporate some sort of switching mechanism into the transmitter and receiver that could read a 'tape' of instructions, a little like the punched paper strips read by automatic 'player pianos'. These machines read cards or paper tape similar to what would be later used to program computers, and as the tape was 'read' through the machine, the holes in the tape caused musical notes to be played. Analogously, thought Antheil, it should be possible for the tape in the transmitter to switch the transmitted frequency as it was slowly unwound through some sort of electronic switch capable of detecting holes in the tape, and similarly an identical tape in the receiver should be able to switch receiver circuits to different frequencies for signal reception. If you had two identical tapes, unwound at the same rate, one in the transmitter and one in the receiver, you could synchronise the transmitter and receiver to stay in step with each other. Of course, any mechanical system is prone to slippage and slight losses of synchronisation, but the principle was there. In December 1940, the concept of a communication system based upon 'frequency hopping' was submitted by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil to the National Inventors Council, a US Government organisation that was co-ordinating technical developments for the war effort. The patent, number 2,292,387, was eventually filed on 10th June 1941 and was granted over a year later in August 1942.  Unfortunately, the practicalities of setting this up would prove to be too difficult. The synchronising tapes would have to be paper tapes, and the whole technical issue of putting fairly complex electronics and mechanics into the small and rough environment of a bomb or torpedo was too much. Lamarr and Antheil gave their Patent to the US Government as part of the war effort, but their creation would have to wait for almost 20 years until the invention of the transistor and other semiconductor devices allowed the construction of practical, if crude, frequency hopping equipment that was based around digital circuits that created a reproducible, but apparently random, string of random electronic impulses that could switch circuitry with no moving parts. The patent lapsed in the early 1960s, at the heart of the cold war, and the US Navy immediately put the system to use using semiconductor technology to create a frequency hopping secure communications system. This was the start of the military use of 'spread spectrum' technology, the direct descendant of  Lamarr's invention. The technology would soon find itself used in a wide range of military communication systems, with frequency switching taking place many times a second making it difficult for an enemy to even detect a signal. A spread spectrum signal heard on a 'normal' radio receiver just sounds like a slightly higher than usual level of noise on the channel. The technology was eventually de - classified in the 1980s, just in time for the technology to be used in cellular mobile telephone systems. To see why this technology is useful, one has to consider that a lot of mobile phones are in use in the same geographical area. It's not really feasible for a given phone to be given its own frequency, as there just are not enough frequencies. Instead, mobile phones can transmit on a number of frequencies and the frequency in use will 'switch' as the phone call is made and the user moves from one 'cell' on the cellular network to another. The switching from frequency to frequency also reduces the effect of interference on the signal, an interfering signal that is strong on one frequency may be quite weak on another, and so although some of the signal may be lost there is a greater chance for the signal to 'get through'. In addition to the mobile phone, low level spread spectrum transmitters are used in 'wireless' computer networks, where data is sent from portable computers to other computers by u.h.f. or microwave radio signals. Again, single frequencies would not be feasible in a busy office environment or city centre, so the network adapters that allow the computers to talk to one another use spread spectrum techniques to improve reliability and data security. Unless you know a lot about the network, it's quite hard to listen in and detect computer traffic on wireless networks due to the frequency hopping. The algorithms used to control the frequency hopping in different spread spectrum systems are quite varied, depending upon the job in hand. For example, mobile phones and wireless networks use chips that generate a pseudo random string of pulses. Two devices in communication will initiate the session by exchanging enough information to set the 'start' position for the random pulse chain. Provided the two systems start from the same place, they'll keep in synchrony. Alternatively, the message to 'change frequency' might be actually transmitted to the receiver as part of the transmitted signal. This approach is also used in mobile phones and WiFi networks. Data about when to switch and what frequency to switch to is sent as a data packet. This isn't terribly secure as anyone with patience and the correct equipment can log the data packets and simulate the receiver. The ultimate in secure spread spectrum probably involves the modern equivalent of the 'one time pad', a CD-ROM or USB memory stick is used at each end. These devices contain a string of totally random noise pulses from a natural source, like solar radio noise or noise from noise diodes. A CD-ROM might contain enough 'bits' for a few dozen messages, a copy would be made and the copy sent to the receiver site, usually under diplomatic protection. The CD-ROM / USB memory stick would be used for communications, and then after each block of bits is used for a single message it's never used again. Combined with a suitable cipher system, this sort of communication is undetectable (don't forget that the signal sounds like an increase in local noise) and even if it is detected the cipher system ensures that no one else can read the message. And finally, what did Hedy and George get for all their cleverness? Well, until recently not much. Apparently they never even received a formal thank you letter from the US Government. But eventually in the year 2000, Hedy Lamarr received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation recognising her contributions to modern computer technology, even though it took place 50 years previously. George Antheil died before he could get the award, but at least now the contribution of the composer and the actress to modern communications has finally been recognised. Today Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot is about to play Hedy Lamarr in a TV series about her fascinating life. What do you think? Email me at

The photo above (click on it for a larger version) was taken by me a couple of nights ago in Appold Street, Erith. It also illustrates one of the more bizarre conspiracy theories that persist despite much evidence to the contrary. You may have heard of the Chemtrail Conspiracy? If not, I will explain. The chemtrail conspiracy theory is the unproven belief that long-lasting trails, so-called "chemtrails", are left in the sky by high-flying aircraft and that they consist of chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public. The main UK based group of Chemtrail conspiracists have their website here - click to view. Believers in the theory argue that normal aircraft contrails dissipate relatively quickly and that contrails that do not dissipate must contain additional substances. These arguments have been dismissed by the scientific community: such trails are normal water-based contrails (condensation trails) that are routinely left by high-flying aircraft under certain atmospheric conditions. Although proponents have attempted to prove that the claimed chemical spraying does take place, their analyses have been flawed or based on misconceptions. Because of the persistence of the conspiracy theory and questions about government involvement, scientists and government agencies around the world have repeatedly explained that supposed chemtrails are in fact normal contrails. Contrails, or condensation trails, are "streaks of condensed water vapour created in the air by an airplane or rocket at high altitudes." They are the result of normal emissions of water vapour from piston and jet engines at high altitudes in which the water vapor condenses into visible clouds. They are formed when hot humid air from the engines (when Kerosene jet fuel burns, one of the results of combustion is water vapour) mixes with the colder surrounding air. The rate at which contrails dissipate is entirely dependent on weather conditions and altitude. If the atmosphere is near saturation, the contrail may exist for some time. Conversely, if the atmosphere is dry, the contrail will dissipate quickly. The conspiracy theorists will have none of this, however. A 2014  research paper presented results of reviewing 20 chemtrail websites found that believers appeal to science in some of their arguments, but don't believe what academic or government-employed scientists say; scientists and federal agencies have consistently denied that chemtrails exist, explaining the sky tracks are simply persistent contrails. The 2014 paper also found that chemtrail believers generally hold that chemtrails are evidence of a global conspiracy; people who believe in the conspiracy allege various goals which include profit (for example, manipulating futures prices or making people sick to benefit drug companies), population control, or weapons testing (use of weather as a weapon, or testing bioweapons). One of these ideas, is that clouds are being seeded with electrically conductive materials as part of a massive electromagnetic superweapons programme based around the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). Those who believe in the conspiracy say the chemtrails are toxic; the 2014 review found that chemtrail believers generally hold that every person is under attack and found that believers often express fear, anxiety, sadness and anger about this. Experts on atmospheric phenomena say chemtrails do not exist, and that the characteristics attributed to them are simply features of contrails responding differently in diverse conditions in terms of the sunlight, temperature, horizontal and vertical wind shear, and humidity levels present at the aircraft's altitude. In the US, the grid like nature of the National Airspace System's flight lanes tends to cause crosshatched contrails, and in general it is hard to discern from the ground whether overlapping contrails are at similar altitudes or not. The jointly published fact sheet produced by NASA, the EPA, the FAA, and NOAA in 2000 in response to alarms over chemtrails details the science of contrail formation, and outlines both the known and potential impacts contrails have on temperature and climate. The USAF produced a fact sheet as well that described these contrail phenomena as observed and analyzed since at least 1953. It also rebutted chemtrail theories more directly by identifying the theories as a hoax and disproving the existence of chemtrails. Patrick Minnis, an atmospheric scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is quoted in USA Today and online, as saying that logic does not dissuade most chemtrail proponents: "If you try to pin these people down and refute things, it's, 'Well, you're just part of the conspiracy'," What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "No burglaries to report this week however we did have a report of a theft of a motor vehicle. The vehicle was a transit van but the good news is, it has since been found and recovered in Hertfordshire.No other crimes to report. Routine patrols continue. We are concentrating patrols to the alley ways of Parkside Avenue and Eversley Avenue following complaints about vehicles driving in an anti-social manner. Two males were stopped in the open space area by the golf course on 05/05/2020 after acting suspiciously to avoid officers. Both males were in possession of cannabis and dealt with accordingly. Please bear in mind Social distancing when out on essential journeys". Belvedere ward:- "Our frequent patrols of open spaces across the ward continue. These patrols have predominantly been in Franks Park and Lesness Abbey, as we have had reports from both areas of people gathering, using the ball court (at Franks Park) and playground/ gym equipment (at Lesness Abbey), contrary to current Government guidelines around COVID-19. Over the course of the last week have advised people found using the basketball court to refrain from doing so, and have also asked a group of youngsters to exit the (currently locked) playground at Lesness Abbey. A male was also spoken to as he was using gym equipment in the park. In other areas – we have been visiting the Streamway area, again after reports from residents in relation to young people gathering on a regular basis on or around the stairs leading to Grosvenor Road, and also at the wooded area near to the allotments. One male youth was returned to his home (and his parents spoken to) as he was found at the location in possession of cannabis. Other males from this group were spoken to and advised to return to their homes. There was a reported burglary at the offices of the management team of Belvedere Park estate in Lower Belvedere at the end of last week. The target were the gardening equipment including a £4000 sit on mower. Luckily officers saw the suspects taking the equipment across the road and gave chase. The team have also been conducting several stop and searches over the past month, mainly for drug offences. More and more people out and about, which is not good. Several people have been dealt with for cannabis possession". Bexleyheath ward:- "Between Sunday 29/4/2020 2000 and Monday 30/4/2020 0910 Theft of Motor Vehicle Martens Close. Land Rover stolen from outside house keyless entry. Between Sunday 3/05/2020 1700 and Monday 4/05/2020 0800 Criminal Damage to Motor Vehicle Martens Close. Tyres slashed. Between Sunday 3/05/2020 2100 and Monday 4/05/2020 0140 Theft of Motor Vehicle Townley Road. Land Rover stolen from outside house Tuesday 5/05/2020 1040 Theft From Motor Vehicle Broadway Shopping Centre car park. Catalytic Convertor stolen Please ensure that you keep any keys for keyless vehicles in lead lined pouches to prevent them being cloned and the vehicle stolen. Information can be found at Patrols have been carried out in all of our drug/ASB hotspots and the Officers have had many positive searches and have been deterring youths from gathering. We have also been actively patrolling parks and open spaces to move on people and groups congregating breaching Covid rules". Crayford ward:-"A little more criminal activity than in recent weeks sadly. On Sunday 3rd March at 22.21 windows on a Ford S Max were smashed whilst parked in Grazeley Close, no suspects seen. Between Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th May a shutter was forced up on a garage and the main door behind was forced open in an alley behind Clive Avenue. Two bicycles were stolen, a black and white Dolan Pressio with a glow in the dark stripe on top tube and a black and green Carerra. Two males in a grey BMW with false number plates drove out of Sainsburys without paying for fuel on Monday 4th May at 16.21. On 4th May at 14.00 a brick was thrown smashing the outer pane of a double glazed window in Iron Mill Lane close to Thames Road, three teenage males were seen running away. The spare wheel was stolen from under a silver VW Transporter Kombi whilst parked in Inglewood Road on Tuesday 5th May between 10.30-11.00. We have been out and about patrolling areas where people are likely to gather #stayhomesavelives. There have been several positive stop and searches where drugs have been recovered". Erith ward:-"Due to staffing levels we have been patrolling Northumberland Heath for a few hours each day, which includes the parks, open spaces and shops. Over 17 people removed from Erith Park who decided to set up a football game, strong words of advice was given. There has been a few stop and searches on Erith Pier that have been positive for drugs. Crimes of note. There has been a couple of theft from Motor vehicles in the West Street area, just be mindful of leaving anything in you vehicles when they are unattended. No Burglaries this week." Northumberland Heath ward:- "There are no crime reports of note this week which is brilliant news. There have been intelligence reports regarding drug activity at Becton Place, Erith and Northumberland Park.. Officers are completing patrols when available. Officers will also be completing a letter drop on Streamway this week, to see if any further information can be put together regarding drug activity and local youths congregating in the local area. The more intelligence we receive the more evidence we will have to support an application for a CCTV camera to be placed in the area when available. Unfortunately we have a few Domestic incidents reported to us during this difficult time. The team have advertised Domestic Violence advice onto our twitter page @NorthumberlandHeath. The team will also be putting posters up in the local petrol stations and shops to help support victims. If you would like to tell us about a breach of coronavirus please report online met.police.tua/tell-us-about/c19 then please see our twitter page for further advice". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "An attempted burglary took place at an address in Forest Road in the early hours of Saturday May 2nd. Police arrived but the suspects had gone. This was the second time at the same address in a couple of weeks so enquiries are being made to see if this is a targeted venue and why. Mark and James have been patrolling the ward as and when they can with Mark detaining a male on a moped in Frobisher Road Saturday afternoon. The male is coming back for an interview in the next few days. Reports are frequent relating to breaches of social distancing across the ward and the team are doing their best to patrol these areas as much as possible. Please remember to stay inside and follow government guidelines". Thamesmead East ward:-"Between 12:00 on Thursday 30/04/20 and 3:40pm on Friday 01/05/20 a vehicle parked in Redpoll Way had the driver's window removed, nothing taken. A lorry parked in Hailey Road had a number of items stolen between the hours of 11:00pm on Thursday 30/04/20 and 04:50am on Friday 01/05/20.Three vehicles parked in Howden Close were damaged overnight of Thursday 30/04/20 and Friday 01/05/20.On Tuesday 05/05/20 between the hours of 3:00am and 12:20pm a vehicle parked in Manor Close had a number of items stolen no signs of forced entry". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries have been reported this week. One theft of a catalytic converter in Hollingbourne Avenue which took place between Wednesday 29/04/20 1200 – Saturday 02/05/20 at 17.30. The team are continuing to patrol as usual and advise the local community in relation to the current government Covid 19 regulations".

The end video this week is very topical; it is a message from The Exchange, and a celebration of the recent 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe day. "We wish we could be celebrating with you all today. But as we can't we hope you enjoy this isolation production from some our very talented local residents and friends. A massive thanks to Jade Flannery, Charlotte Jacobs, Rod Henderson, Wendy Gay and of course Tidus for pulling this amazing tribute together. We will meet again!"

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