The two photos above - click on either for a larger view - show the progress of construction on the former Belvedere Police Station site, on the corner of Woolwich Road and Nuxley Road in Upper Belvedere. The development is to include a number of apartments, and the site, originally run by a commercial developer is now owned by Moat Housing Association. The formal decision to close the Police station and sell it off was started back in 2013. Belvedere Police Station was shut and sold off to save the Metropolitan Police just £91,000 a year - only a little more than is paid to employ a single Chief Superintendent.
I have come to the firm conclusion that the Royal Mail now needs to be renamed to accurately reflect its’ function today. In the last week I have received two letters (unfortunately, both bills) and a total of twenty two pieces of advertising, some enveloped to disguise it as if it were a letter. This infuriates me; I consciously go out of my way to avoid the services of any organisation that uses this underhand technique – Virgin TV, I am talking about you! It is now evident that the Royal Mail business model is completely broken. They can no longer make money by delivering items posted; they now charge companies to stuff advertising crap though peoples’ front doors. It has got so bad that I feel like fitting a document shredder to my letterbox – as all the offending advertising flyers only get collected and taken round to the Council recycling centre in Morrison’s car park. When one factors up the thousands (millions?) of people around the country that throw unsolicited advertising leaflets out as a matter of principle, it must amount to a vast waste of resources. Don’t the advertisers realise that many people will actively avoid their products or services if they have them repeatedly rammed down their throats every time they pick up stuff from the door mat? On top of the large corporate advertisers that are the subject of most of my ire, the other guilty party are the local pizza and kebab shops that keep on covering my door mat with their flyers. When I say “local”, I mean that some come from East Hill in Dartford, and I have even had one from as far away as Greenhithe. As if they are going to deliver to Erith, and even if they did, any food would be a greasy, cold and congealed mess by the time it was delivered. Most fast food places will only deliver to a certain distance from their bases, so why on Earth would they leaflet way outside of this range? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The leaflets cost money to print and distribute – if you post them to areas outside of your delivery range, in essence you are throwing money away. Just why would they do it? Answers on a postcard (or better still, Email me at email@example.com) if you have any inkling of the thinking behind this, as I know it goes on all over the place, and it is extremely irritating, not to mention a great waste of natural resources.
The photo above was taken back in 1995, when the Erith Deep Water Wharf was closed, and prior to the start of the redevelopment of the area. No Wharfside Close, and no Aveley Close, and no riverside retirement apartments behind the Cross Keys. As I have written in the past, one of the most underused and overlooked assets that Erith has is the pier. Erith Pier is the longest pier on the River Thames. It was originally constructed for commercial use for the unloading of goods from cargo ships that used to moor at the pier. Most of the cargo were large reels of blank newsprint for what was then Fleet Street and the newspaper printers. Erith Deep Water Wharf provided many local jobs for years, but as container ports such as Tilbury took over, the wharf became less popular with shipping companies, and it was closed down – it remained empty for a number of years. Back in 1998 work started to convert the former wharf into what is now Morrison’s supermarket and the aforementioned pleasure pier, which opened to the public in 1999. The pier is a great place to go for a walk, to watch the world go by, and to watch the river traffic come and go.
As regular readers will be aware, I have a strong interest in obsolete audio and video recording formats, and the often ingenious engineering that they employed. This week marks the 28th anniversary of the launch of the MiniDisk format in the UK. The MiniDisc format began as a research project in the labs of electronics giant Sony in the early 1990s. In those pre- smart phone, pre-flash memory days, engineers were struggling with the problem of how to make music portable. Sony was riding high on the success of their Walkman analogue cassette players, which had come to dominate the market in the 1980s. But they were bumping up against the limits of the media: both cassette tape and CD Walkman devices really could not get any smaller, because the medium itself was the limiting factor. Devices like the cassette tape Walkman WM-EX88 and the CD D-J50 were not much bigger than the cases that the cassette tape and CD were stored in: they literally could not get much smaller and still hold the tape or CD. What was needed, Sony decided, was a new way to store music. This new format was the MiniDisc. This development was spurred by two inventions: a new audio compression format called ATRAC and a storage system called the magneto-optical disc. The Adaptive Transform Acoustic Codec (ATRAC) was developed by Sony engineers who figured out an important fact: your ears are good, but not that good. They are attuned to picking up certain sounds better than others. Specifically, if there are two sounds at similar frequencies, your ear can’t separate the two. This is especially true of high frequencies: our ears are more attuned to picking out low frequencies like the rustle of a tiger in a nearby tree. At higher frequencies, your ear is not able to pick out the details. So, what ATRAC does is to effectively lump these frequencies together, losing the specific details that your ear can’t hear anyway. (That’s the theory, at least; audiophiles will argue otherwise, but let’s leave that aside for the moment). ATRAC breaks the sound down into 24 frequency bands, and selectively compresses the sound, with smaller bands (that preserve more of the detail) at lower and middle frequencies, but losing a lot in the high bands. There is much more to the process than that (you can read all of the details here - trust me, it is extremely technical), but the end product is that it compresses the sound down so that the ATRAC version is one fifth of the size of the CD version. Each disc could hold 74 or 80 minutes of music, although this could be expanded with later models that could compress the music more to hold up to 320 minutes. The first MiniDisc players were launched in 1992, accompanied by a large advertising campaign touting the benefits of the new format. Initially, Sony tried to pitch it as an alternative to CD, a new format where you would buy albums on a MiniDisc. The first pre-recorded album was Emotions by Mariah Carey, which was perhaps indicative of the state of mind at Sony after the launch was a spectacular failure, with Sony reportedly selling less than 50,000 players in the first year. The MiniDisc never caught on as a pre-recorded music format, as CDs were the music format that everyone used. Never ones to admit defeat, Sony decided to try again in 1996. This time, they decided to play up the recordable and reusable aspects of MiniDisc, touting their new discs and portable players as being tougher, better and cooler than CD or tape, because you could easily move tracks from CD or tape to MiniDisc, then skip or shuffle tracks on the player. This relaunch met with some success: the MiniDisc players were lighter and more flexible than CD players, and they offered the skip protection and shuffle play features that cassette tape players were missing. Other manufacturers (such as Aiwa and Sharp) supported the format and started offering recorders and players. The new breed of portable MiniDisc players could record music directly from the digital output of a CD player, so the quality was great. You could also sacrifice quality for more music, storing up to 320 minutes of audio on those that supported the higher compression levels. One niche market that loved the MiniDisc were radio journalists. The aforementioned ability to write to MiniDiscs meant that you could record to them with many portable MiniDisc devices, and the ATRAC compression worked extremely well for voices and ambient sound recordings. It didn’t have quite the premium audio quality of DAT (Digital Audio Tape), but it was cheaper and more reliable than the notoriously mechanically finicky DAT recorders. The game was soon up, however, when Apple announced the iPod. The benefits of the iPod over the MiniDisc were obvious: the first iPods offered 5GB of capacity that meant up to 1000 songs, or hundreds of hours of music, while each MiniDisc held just 320 minutes at most. And the iPod didn’t ask where the music came from, or limit how you could copy it: it accepted most MP3 files without complaint or limitation. This caused a seismic shift in this industry: the iPod went on to sell millions, while the MiniDisc remained a niche product that was loved by some, but ignored by most. The writing was on the wall. The MiniDisc format lost ground over the early 2000s as MP3 players got better and better. Even the uniqueness of MiniDisc being able to record audio on the player was lost, as solid state recording devices started offering more flexible recording and editing features than MiniDisc ever could for professional users. The advent and widespread use of smart phones only exacerbated this situation. The Minidisc format was discontinued by Sony in early 2013, though many fan sites and third party resources are still available for a product that never really made it out of a niche.
Maggot Sandwich readers of long standing may recall that quite some time ago I explained why I refused to take advertising on the blog. One of the reasons I cited was that I did not want to be at the thrall of an advertiser or sponsor, and thus be muzzled as to what content I wrote. It would seem that my feelings on the subject have now been crystallised after a report from The Advertising Standards Authority specifically targeting Vloggers (video bloggers) who have been promoting commercial products and using product placement in their videos, for which advertising agencies and public relations firms have been financially rewarding them for. Whether The Advertising Standards Authority actually have any power over Vloggers is debatable; many are based outside of the UK, and other may be based in the UK, but use platforms that are hosted outside of the UK. I suspect that the ASA are having a bit of a “fishing trip” to see who they can scare into submission. I think that in many cases their words may prove to be an empty threat. I get the feeling that the ASA don’t really have much of a clue as to exactly how video services such as YouTube actually operate. Whilst a file may be uploaded from an I.P address in the UK, it may end up being hosted on a server in the USA, Japan or a host of other locations, from which it is then “broadcast” to viewers via the World Wide Web. Which country is legally responsible for video content? The country from whence it was uploaded, or the country that hosts the video files? Users may upload files using a proxy, mirroring the upload to a third location anywhere in the world – The Advertising Standards Authority would need the resources of GCHQ to track activity of this nature, and I cannot see it ever happening. I think some clueless Whitehall Mandarin is blowing off steam over something that they really don't have a handle on. Let’s see what happens.
Twenty-five years ago last Monday arguably the most significant event in modern computing history happened: the release of Windows 95. The operating system was possibly the most important and notable release for the Redmond giant, which laid the foundation for some core elements of the OS, such as the Start Menu Taskbar, and the Recycle Bin that are still present, albeit in a much more modern form. It also marked the phasing out of MS-DOS, with it being merged with Windows into one offering, making it more user-friendly operating system. In a move that cemented its place in computing history and made Bill Gates the richest man on Earth, Microsoft stopped stealing its ideas from the likes of Xerox PARC and Apple – and came up with a few of its own, forming Windows 95. And the biggest was the Start button which, even a quarter of a century later still exists albeit after various redesigns and rethinks. There were a range of other Windows 95 features that were eventually added, most of which carry through to today – and were not all exclusive to Windows: right-clicked context menus; the desktop as a folder and the My Computer icon; shortcuts; the recycle bin; a better way to get at files and settings through Windows Explorer and Device Manager; and the much-touted Plug and Play which tried to automate the process of installing drivers and getting things like printers working without much fuss - in some cases; in others it could be a nightmare with blame being put on a new feature called "Plug and Play" - which quickly became known as “Plug and Pray” as its wildly inconsistent approach meant it sometimes worked wonderfully and sometimes it just didn’t. Due to compromises made in the operating system's 16-slash-32-bit design and memory protection choices, some applications had a tendency to crash the whole system if not themselves, and windows in the new Windows would stagger themselves all the way across the screen. USB support came in 1997 – a year after the first specification was released. And there were countless other small problems that somewhat undercut the excitement and hype. The truth was, despite all its advances and innovations, it wasn’t until Windows 98 that various problems were smoothed out and a world-class, for the time, consumer-grade operating system was born. At that point, Microsoft simply dominated everything for the best part of a decade. Internet Explorer, initially an optional add-on, was later offered for free or bundled with every copy of Windows, triggering the first browser war. Microsoft used its market-dominant OS to ruthlessly steamroller those who stood in its way. The technical and design jump that Windows 95 represented became a double-edged sword for the world; its success gave Microsoft the power to pander to its worst instincts - it abused its position to such a ludicrous degree that the US government and Europe were forced to drag Redmond through antitrust investigations. It wasn’t until Google arrived and Apple found a new lease of life that Microsoft was pushed off its greed-and-laziness default and driven back toward innovation. Whatever you say about Microsoft, you can’t deny the extraordinary impact Windows has had on virtually every person on the planet.
Now for a Maggot Sandwich item that has not been featured for quite some time, and seems overdue to revisiting - a local restaurant review; this has been submitted by Ian, the webmaster of the very popular Belvedere Splash Facebook group. Ian writes:- "I’ve been meaning to visit the Riverside Steak and Fish Bar in Erith since it opened but for one reason or another have never got round to it. Well on a warm but blustery Tuesday night as we had family over and couldn’t be bothered to cook and after much faffing about because no-one agreed on what to eat we managed to book a table for five (which was surprising as it was “Eat Out To Help Out” it was busy but they’d had a cancellation). I was just pleasantly surprised at the interior, I think because it has “fish bar” in the name I expected more of a cafe setting but it’s a proper sit-down restaurant (although it does have the usual fish n’ chips shop stainless steel heated display cabinet as part of the counter when you come in) with potted plants, subtle lighting etc. In fact my only complaint about the interior was the background music was a bit too loud (and that comes from someone who’s spent 25+ years playing in bands!). Price wise I can’t really comment as it was Eat Out To Help Out but it seemed reasonable (the website prices are out of date) but I think steaks with the trimmings ranges from about £12ish to about £18. Must admit my steak was really nice, well cooked, a good cut and beautifully presented although the squiggly bits round the edge of the plate wee kebab sauces like garlic sauce and chilli. Fish menu wise they do everything from battered cod to sea bass, I don’t eat fish but other people in the restaurant seemed to like it. One last point, the chips are “chip shop” chips but obviously ABSOLUTELY fresh and although I thought (personally) that those sort of chips would be...well...not something that works with chips but it really did and we’ll be going again in the future!"
And now to the end video. This is a TV news report on the large warehouse fire that took place in Fraser Road, Erith. I recall, back on the 16th of May 1984, not very long before the Erith deep water wharf (on the site of what is now Morrison's supermarket) finally closed down, that the warehouse that stored the giant rolls of newsprint brought in by ship from Scandinavia caught fire. Once the paper was alight, it proved impossible for the fire brigade to put out. Fraser Road was blocked for nearly two weeks, as the emergency services contained the blaze, but left it to burn itself out. I can remember standing in the back garden of my parents’ house in Upper Belvedere on a bright and sunny day, and being amazed by what appeared to be snowflakes falling from a cloudless sky. The flakes were actually specks of ash from the raging paper warehouse blaze a couple of miles away. The smell of burning pervaded the area for nearly a month, well after the fire burned itself out naturally – and left the warehouse building a burned out shell. From my recollections of the fire, nobody was seriously hurt, and there was a substantial insurance settlement to the owners of the Europa Industrial Estate. Watch the contemporary news coverage below. Please feel free to leave a comment below; alternatively you can Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.