Sunday, November 22, 2020

Big Sur.

The photo above shows the Police office in Pier Road, Erith. The office opened on Monday the 18th July 2011. It permanently closes today - Sunday the 22nd November 2020. The Safer Neighbourhood Teams that have been based in the local office will be relocated to Bexleyheath Police Station - though I gather that there is some debate if the Bexleyheath facility has enough space to house the teams. There is also some concern that the teams will have to spend some of the time they would normally use on their duties, in commuting to and from Bexleyheath in future. Whilst the PC's and PCSO's get to use public transport for free, the commuting to and from the Bexleyheath Police Station will eat into the time the teams have with their "boots on the ground". 

In another crime related story, The theft of Catalytic Converters from cars has rapidly increased recently. Catalytic Converters - which are fitted to all petrol cars manufactured from 1993 - are there to reduce the harmful pollutants emitted from vehicle exhaust pipes. They do this by taking the gases produced and converting them into water vapour and less harmful emissions via a series of chemical reactions. The devices are made up of an array of valuable materials including palladium, rhodium and platinum - and criminal gangs are well aware of this small fortune stored beneath your vehicle. Currently, palladium is even more valuable than gold, having doubled over two years, while rhodium is more than four times higher in value than gold, according to a recent press investigation. It found that a Troy ounce (1.1 ounce) of gold is worth $1,731 (£1,392), while palladium sells for $1,914 (£1,539). Rhodium, which is sold in normal ounces, was priced at $8,300 (£6,675) an ounce in June. Criminal gangs are jacking up cars and sawing off the converter, which they then sell to unscrupulous car breakers. Organised gangs are scouring areas equipped with jacks to lift vehicles off the ground to allow for easy access to the valuable devices. Whilst more skilled thieves are unscrewing them from the underside of cars, others are taking a more ham-fisted approach and sawing them off the exhaust system, causing irreversible damage and resulting in some owners having to replace entire exhaust systems. Because there is often no third party to claim against, drivers using their polices to cover repair costs are also losing their No Claims Discount, unless otherwise protected. Some of those who have had the device stolen can face long waits to obtain a new one and get their car back on the road, thanks to the increase in thefts and fast-developing supply issues with parts. This means they are unable to use their cars until a replacement part is fitted, else face fines. Toyota said last year that it not envisaged the 'rapid rise' in thefts, which in turn 'impacted our ability to source enough of the parts we need in some cases'. In some instances it has resulted in vehicles being written off entirely due to the level of damage caused by thieves ripping the devices from the underside of cars. Motoring association MotorEasy analysed 10,000 garage bills last year and found the average cost to replace a catalytic converter is up to £1,300, with over £900 of the cost being parts. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act introduced in 2013 was designed to make life more difficult for thieves to sell stolen metal parts to dealers by banning cash sales and demanding firms to conduct identity checks on sellers. There have been reports that this aw has been ineffective - while councils are responsible to carry out inspections of licensed dealers - and close those found to be buying parts that have clearly been pinched - a detailed BBC 5 Live investigation said enforcement levels are almost non existent. The report found that of 240 licencing councils in England contacted, almost 120 had not visited any scrap dealers in the previous 28 months and many of the others had only inspected once or twice. However, a small number had taken action against identified  rogue dealers with support form the police. The BBC report explained: 'Part of the problem is that thousands of scrap dealers simply chose to drop out of the licensing scheme when the Scrap Metal Dealers Act came into force. 'Many of those, says the industry, are now those dealers that advertise on the internet and buy catalytic converters with no questions asked.' Have you had experience of Catalytic Converter theft? Email me in confidence at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Microsoft Windows was thirty five years old last Friday. On November 20th, 1985, Microsoft unveiled its graphical operating system; (actually technically speaking it was not an operating system at all - from Windows 1.0 to Windows ME, Windows was actually a graphical interface shell that sat on top of DOS - which was the actual operating system - but I digress). Windows 1.0 offered a new way to navigate a PC, clicking a cursor on various boxes rather than scrolling through lines of text in order to navigate data and applications. While arguably less efficient than a command line, the graphical user interface (GUI) was more intuitive and easier for novice users to manage. Running Windows 1.0 required a PC running DOS 2.0 as well as two double-sided floppy disk drives, 256K of memory, and a new-fangled device known as a "graphics card." Windows worked with some DOS apps, while others would just run in full-screen mode. Windows 1.0 was not exactly a stirring success. PC users accustomed to the command-line interface of DOS weren't yet sold on a GUI, and only about 500,000 copies were sold in the first couple of years. It took until the early 90s for Windows to catch on, but when it did, the OS became synonymous with the PC and made Microsoft one of the most successful and powerful companies in the world for the next two decades. Windows has had its ups and downs - at times it has been an excellent operating system, with other iterations, it has been truly terrible; let's look at some of the bad ones first:- Windows Vista was the long-awaited successor to Windows XP – perhaps that's part of why it is considered such a huge disappointment. After years of speculation and hype, Vista was roundly panned by critics and loathed by consumers. Part of the problem was its hefty hardware requirements that, for many users, meant upgrading components or just buying an entirely new PC. Add to that performance issues and default security settings that would flood users with permission dialogues, and you get one of Microsoft's biggest flops. Windows ME, however, was an even bigger flop than Vista. The final DOS based, consumer-only version of Windows, its mere mention will draw cringes to this day. It was a buggy, sluggish mess of an operating system and is considered by many to be Microsoft's worst-ever Windows version. On top of being riddled with bugs, ME suffered from a rather unfortunate flaw in its system restore process that on some machines meant that when something did go seriously wrong, the OS could not be restored. On a happier note, there have been some excellent and very popular versions of Windows:- Windows 3.11 was credited as the first true "hit" version of Windows and the commercial success that the platform needed to be considered more than just an add-on for DOS. It also carved out a niche for itself in the embedded market that would last for more than two decades. Windows for Workgroups was phenomenally successful as a platform for consoles, point of sale terminals, and workstations. Well into the 2000s, Windows 3.11 could be found in embedded devices. Just a few weeks ago, it was found that back in 2015, Orly Airport in France used Windows 3.11 to power a critical weather prediction system, 23 years after its release and nearly 15 years after Microsoft pulled official support. Windows XP SP2 was the version of XP that Microsoft got right. Three years after XP hit, Microsoft pushed out the second service pack and finally addressed some of the myriad of security problems that plagued XP. Like Windows 3.11, XP SP2 has enjoyed a lifespan so long it has become troublesome. Despite Microsoft's best efforts to get people to upgrade their systems to newer versions, some older PCs still rely on XP. Windows 7 was another stellar release that came after a less-than-stellar predecessor. In this case, Windows 7 corrected a lot of the things that Vista got wrong, particularly security, performance, and hardware demands. Windows 10 has proved a big success - offering good security and performance. Having said that, the use of desktop computers is now far less prevalent than even five years ago - any people's main use is now with a handheld device such as a tablet or smartphone - which usually run either MacOS or Android rather than Windows. I am firmly of the belief that Windows will be with us for decades to come in some form or other, but that it will not have the dominance that it once enjoyed. What do you think? Email me as usual in complete confidence to hugh.neal@gmail.com

A reader sent me the period photo above, which looks like it was taken in the late 1970's or thereabouts. It shows Station Parade - the row of shops which used to exist in Bexley Road, opposite Christ Church Erith. The shops were demolished to allow the construction of Bronze Age Way, the dual carriageway that leads to Lower Belvedere, Thamesmead and Woolwich. I dimly recall the parade - there was a newsagent, an off - licence (which had a reputation for serving under - age customers), an estate agent and a "greasy spoon" cafe, which was run by a rather dodgy bloke who was the uncle of someone I went to school with. My schoolmate would sometimes visit the cafe at lunchtime to get a free fry - up, but I seem to remember he had to go round collecting dirty plates and cups for his uncle afterwards. I never actually went in there myself. So much of old Erith has been destroyed over the years; this is the reason that so many residents, including myself are so keen on preserving the little that is left. 

Regular readers will recall that over the years I have written at some great length about local businessman, inventor and somewhat morally dubious character Sir Hiram Maxim. It is now well documented that in addition to inventing the automatic machine gun, the sprung mouse trap, and the fire sprinkler, he also constructed the first heavier than air flying machine, several years before the Wright Brothers. Whilst researching Sir Hiram Maxim, I came across the story of another pioneering aviation engineer, whose story is much less well known, but just as fascinating. Patrick Young Alexander (28th March 1867 – 7th July 1943) was a British aeronautical pioneer fascinated by the possibility of heavier-than-air flight. He was an enthusiastic balloonist and he was also particularly active in meteorology. He performed many meteorological and aviation experiments, designing and building his own equipment. He travelled widely, visiting Australia in his youth and later making many visits to the USA — crossing the Atlantic at least fifty times. Alexander was born and brought up at Herne Villa in Belvedere, and later lived in both Sheffield and Bath. His mother was Harriotte Emma and his father was Andrew Alexander from Scotland. He had an elder brother, John Edmond. His father, Andrew Alexander, was a civil engineer of some standing and a mechanical engineer. He was interested in aeronautics and was a founder member of The Royal Aeronautical Society in 1866. He presented some papers to the society including "Power in Relation to Weight in Aerial Navigation". In 1875, he went to see Thomas Moy's Aerial Steamer at The Crystal Palace. This machine had many interesting design features and may have achieved a brief hop into the air; accounts vary. That year, Andrew Alexander became manager of the Cyclops works of Charles Cammell and Company in Sheffield, where he worked on the improvement of armour plate for warships. In 1878, Patrick Alexander, doubtless encouraged by his father, built an elastic driven model aeroplane of the Penaud type. In the late summer of that year, Patrick was taken by his father to see the Paris Exhibition. One attraction was irresistible: the enormous hydrogen balloon of Henri Giffard, which was capable of taking 52 passengers at a time on a tethered ascent to 500 metres (1,600 ft). The experience left a deep impression on Alexander, then 11 years old. When Andrew Alexander left the Cyclops works, the Alexander family moved from Sheffield to Bath and Patrick decided on a career in the Merchant Navy. On 1 April 1885, just 3 days after his 18th birthday, Patrick Alexander signed as an apprentice Merchant Navy officer. The very next day he sailed upon the Minero, a barque of 478 tones bound for Fremantle in Western Australia, a distance of 12,500 miles (20,000 km) in a vessel powered only by the wind. Sixty days into the journey, while aloft helping with the sails, Patrick lost his grip and fell. As he hit the deck, he broke his leg. The ship was still three weeks away from port and there was little that could be done other than to strap Patrick into a bunk for the rest of the journey, letting the leg heal without expert attention. The Minero had left England with a crew short by one member. At Fremantle, two of the crew jumped ship, possibly encouraged by rumours of gold being found in the desert; replacement crewmen were hard to come by and only one could be found. The Minero set sail for Cossack and Port Walcott some 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the North, seeking a cargo, probably of wool and pearl shell, for the return to London. Patrick was getting about with the aid of a crutch and, given the shortage of crew, he was helping as best he could. On 10 August, in rough weather on a wet and slippery deck, Alexander fell again and re-broke his injured leg. He was taken to Victoria Hospital at Geraldton. The Minero returned to London without him. Patrick returned to England; despite treatment, it was clear that his injuries would leave him lame for life. Due to his disability, he chose to come ashore, and pursue other interests. In 1893, Patrick Alexander ordered a balloon of 100,000 cubic feet (2,800 m3) capacity from Percival Spencer. At the time, C.G. Spencer and Sons' largest advertised balloon was of 80,000 cubic feet (2,300m3) and when it was made it attracted much public interest. Capable of lifting 12 passengers, it was one of the largest balloons yet made. Alexander named her the Majestic. In 1894, Patrick took it to Germany where he conducted scientific ascents that excited interest among German scientists and the lay public, as well as that of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Ever since the first balloon ascent by the Montgolfier Brothers in 1783, it had been realised that for balloons to be really useful, they had to be navigable. Patrick Alexander applied his mind to this problem of airship propulsion. In 1893 and 1894 he filed a number of patents. His ideas included reciprocating oars and an adjustable-pitch propeller that resembled a pair of fans. One patent includes a means of heating the gas in the balloon envelope by using piped steam, the steam pipe also served to support the balloon in the shape of a parachute in the event of the balloon being burst or punctured. None of Patrick’s ideas ever came to anything; but throughout his life, he never lost faith in the practicality of airships. Patrick Alexander was very interested in the development of heavier-than-air flying machines. Early in the 1890s, he travelled to Germany to meet Otto Lilienthal who was experimenting with gliders, and he continued to study ideas from a wide variety of sources. Patrick was in contact with Octave Chanute and others experimenting with flight. In the USA, sometime before 1903, Patrick visited Samuel Pierpont Langley whose successful models had attracted much attention. At Christmas 1902 he visited the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. On hearing that Patrick Alexander was planning a return trip to the USA in October 1903, the Wright brothers, not known for welcoming interruptions to their work, said they would be happy to meet him. However, Patrick missed a crucial telegram and never received their message. Patrick must have been most disappointed to have missed the opportunity to witness the first flights of the Wright Flyer on 17 December 1903. Sadly at the age of fifty, his inheritance gone, Patrick Alexander spent the remainder of his life at The United Services College, Windsor, where he taught students the basic principles of aeronautics. He would also hold model flying competitions for the students in the park, watched by the Eton College boys. A young apprenticed carpenter boy, who lived in the same road as Patrick Alexander, started the ‘Windsor Model Aircraft Club’. The boy was very keen at making propellers and testing them on model aeroplanes he built and flew in the park.  The boy later became to be known the designer of the Hawker Hurricane fighter - the backbone of the RAF during the Battle of Britain -  Sir Sydney Camm. Patrick Alexander died on 7 July 1943, almost penniless — having given most of his money away. Today, he is not well known; having failed to make any singular, lasting contribution to aviation, and there being just a few modest memorials to his name. His primary contribution to the history of aviation was that through his tireless efforts, many journeys, writings, public speeches, and generous donations he was responsible for collecting and disseminating ideas across nations and continents without which development in the field would have proceeded more slowly. He was a generous man — generous with his time, his intellect and with his money. An inheritance and his business ability made him wealthy, but financial success meant little to him, and he ended up giving almost all of his money away. He was driven by native curiosity and ambition, and yet he was always supportive of the efforts of others, often making generous financial contributions, and was not jealous of their achievements. Patrick Alexander was buried in a small churchyard in Windsor. Ironically his headstone faces the flight path from Heathrow Airport.

Work proceeds - albeit apparently quite slowly - on the apartment block that replaces Belvedere Police Station. I took the photo above on Wednesday morning - click on it for a larger view. Following my earlier piece on the closure of the Erith police office, there is now no physical law enforcement presence anywhere in the Northern part of the London Borough of Bexley. The only two buildings housing the Police are the main Bexleyheath Police Station in the centre of the borough, and a secondary office based in Marlowe House in Sidcup, at the very Southernmost part of the borough. 

Another - very recent computer related story. If you have an Apple Mac, you may be aware that a very substantial upgrade to Mac OS has recently been released. This is called "Big Sur", and the upgrade has not been pleasant for some Mac owners. In some cases, after the upgrade has completed, the Mac shows a logon screen. When the user enters the password, the operating system says that the password is incorrect, even though it is indeed correct and valid. Whatever you do, you simply cannot log into your Mac - this is a known bug. Here is the fix. Shut down your Mac, then restart it whilst holding down The "Command" and "R" keys - this may take a minute or so - keep holding the keys down until you see the MacOS Recovery console - this is an internal set of utilities built into the Mac hardware that few owners are even aware of. You will see a menu of options in a window at the centre of the screen - you can ignore this for now; instead at the top left of the screen you will see a number of options. Pick the one that says "Terminal" - when you click on this, an old fashioned command line terminal will open. At the command prompt, type in lower case and all one word (without quotation marks) "passwordreset" then press enter. You will then see a number of scripts run automatically in the command window, then a new window will appear with the option to reset the password. You enter the new password twice and click "OK" - once this has saved, you can click on "reboot" from the top left menu and your Mac will restart - with a working password and logon. The reason today's Blog update is a little later than normal is because I had to carry out this operation on a Mac this morning, so I know this fix works - and is officially supported by Apple. 

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "We are pleased to report this past week there have been no reports of burglaries on the ward however we are being hit with various vehicle crime offences. In Beverley Road on Wednesday 11/11/2020 at 22.15 hours, a blue Mini Cooper registration number P140 APA was stolen. CCTV shows a male acting suspiciously walking up and down Beverley Road however the footage was not clear enough due to hours of darkness but it’s believed the suspect was not alone. He was seen opening a car boot and taking something out of a vehicle before the vehicle drove off. Again on Wednesday 11/11/2020 at 02.28 hours a blue Toyota registration number RY02 TKV was stolen from a residential car parking area in Swallow Close. On Thursday 12/11/2020 at 09.50 hours an attempt was made to gain entry to a Transit Van parked on a driveway in Three Corners. Thankfully the alarm activated and suspect fled but was not seen. On Saturday 14/11/2020 at 04.20 hours in Grasmere Road, a rear window of a parked vehicle was smashed by unknown means. We have also been made aware of a scruffy looking male with distinctive long fair dreadlocks who was seen on Friday 13/11/2020 attempting to climb a fence in the alleyway that runs behind Parkside Avenue. When approached by a local resident he claimed to be looking to buy a property however this is highly unlikely. The most recent sighting of this male was on Monday 16/11/2020 at around 03.00 pm in Appledore Avenue, this time he was seen looking into a window. He was then made aware he was being watched by a local resident so he left and headed towards Eversley Avenue. The team are aware of this male and we ask residents to call Police immediately if he is seen acting suspiciously in the area. In the meantime, patrols will be carried out. We have received a report of two males in Coniston Road where two males were seen walking in and out of driveways on Monday evening. Both males were constantly on the phone wearing dark coloured tracksuits one with grey bottoms. Targeted patrols continue in Hillingdon Road due to further reports of possible drug dealing where vehicles are seen parking up and drivers remain in the vehicle believed to be waiting to carry out a drug deal. Due to the various Incidents over the last week the team I can assure you the team will be actively patrolling to all areas over the coming week but we ask you to spread the word to neighbours so they are aware of criminals in the area. It’s that time of year again and although Burglary figures are low on the ward, criminal will go down other revenues to commit a crime. We can’t stress enough that you make sure your properties are left safe and secure with additional deterrents put in place where possible to deter these criminals". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward:- "On the Sunday 15th November at about 3 pm a mobile phone was reported stolen whilst the victim was in the Bexleyheath shopping area by ASDA. There was a report of a theft from a motor vehicle at Long Lane Bexleyheath – Item was stolen from a work van on the Saturday 14th November between 8.30 am and 9 am. A theft of motor vehicle was reported at Swanbridge Road Bexleyheath on the 15th November at about 1.30 am in the morning, neighbour had witnessed the incident". Crayford ward:- "Once again, no residential burglaries, but once again, let’s not get complacent.  There has been quite a bit of motor vehicle related crime this last week.  A red Dacia Sandero was criminally damaged by having an object thrown at it causing a dent to the roof.  This happened at Claston Close on Friday 13th November at about 9.00 to 9.05. A white Ford Transit, VRM AG06 DCY was stolen from near 8 Heath Road on Friday 13th November at around 13.10 to 13.15 whilst the driver was delivering Amazon packages, the driver did not report seeing anyone near it at the time. Number plates DV61 USL were stolen from a vehicle whilst parked in Wyatt Road between 07.00 on Sunday 15th November and 9.15 on Monday 16th November, these should be on a silver Peugeot 508.  A blue Corsa which was locked and secure was broken in to at the top end of Iron Mill Lane (close to Perry Street) between 20.00 on Sunday 15th November and 05.50 on Monday 16th November, the logbook was stolen. In the same road between 7.25 on Saturday 14th November and 6.35 on Sunday 16th November a white Skoda was broken in to and a Sat Nav stolen. Windows were smashed to gain access. Between 17.30 on Sunday 15th November and 6.20 on Monday 16th November a silver Corsa and black VW Golf whilst parked in the layby in Perry Street had windows smashed and currency stolen. On Tuesday 17th November at 18.50 suspects tried to steal a KTM motorcycle LF19 URW which was locked and chained outside Currys at Tower Retail Park.  A silver/grey Transit with three Males tried to place the motorcycle into the van and was challenged by the owner, who was then assaulted.  The van drove off at speed and the KTM tipped out on to the pavement.  The van is believed to be on false plates". Erith ward:- "This week we carried out a community weapon sweep with Neighbourhood Watch members Claire Tack, David Potter and Amrik Seehra. We did a thorough search around Riverside gardens, the grounds of Carrack house and along the Thames path. The volunteers from NHW were brilliant very helpful and enthusiastic, Looking forward to working when them again in the future. We have also carried out a Knife arch at Erith Train Station. Crime wise we haven’t had any burglaries in Erith this week. Motor crime there had been a couple of theft from vehicles of which all victims have been spoken to give advice and letters posted to local residents in the area. We have been patrolling underground residential car parks in Erith as there have been reports of ASB in these car parks, Anyone we see in these areas is questioned to why they are there, If they do not have good enough excuses then parents are spoken to regarding their children causing ASB, Housing officers are also made aware if their tenants are causing ASB issues". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "No burglaries in the last week. Two positive stop and searches have resulted in one person coming back for interview and another one given the relevant warnings and paper work. One known nominal was stopped and searched after running from officers (and getting caught) as he thought he was wanted. The search was negative and he wasn’t wanted. One female has been arrested by our team for domestic ABH and harassment. This has been handed over to the Safeguarding Team". Thamesmead East ward:-"No Burglaries this week. Remember remain vigilant, close and lock windows and doors even if you are only going out for a short time. Keep burglars guessing when the nights are getting longer– use timer lights. Motor Vehicle Crimes. WATERSMEET WAY between the hours of 4:30 pm on Sunday 15/11/20 and 11:15 am on Monday 16/11/20 the front and rear number plates stolen from a vehicle. Motor Vehicle crime prevention. When leaving your vehicle, that all doors are locked checking it is secure. Your mobile phone, coins for the car park, sunglasses, packs of medication or other items that can earn quick cash are irresistible to the opportunist thief. Remember, the cost of replacing a window is often more. Never leave wallets, handbags, purses and credit cards in an unattended vehicle.  Protect your vehicle from catalytic converter thieves. Consider installing a Thatcham approved alarm to your vehicle * Alarms that activate if the vehicle is removed or tilted are particularly effective. * Use a catalytic converter marking system to protect the device. Limit access to the catalytic converter by parking parallel with another vehicle. • Report suspicious activity by looking out for people ‘working’ under vehicles as they may not be the owners or leaseholders, even if they have fluorescent jackets on. • Mark your catalytic converter by etching your vehicle registration onto the metal shell. Using a Secured by Design (SBD) approved forensic heat-resistant marking solution. This makes it easier for police to trace the converter back to your vehicle should it ever be stolen, and links offenders to a crime. Good News. A resident contacted SNT regarding an area PC Pruden attended, the result was five males stopped and searched at the location cannabis found. Working together – Information received from Peabody Housing Association regarding an abandoned vehicle, SNT officers attended on Sunday 15/11/20. Vehicle checks carried out resulting the vehicle had been stolen from Gravesend, Kent. PCSO Hobbs arranged vehicle recovery which was taken to Charlton car pound". West Heath ward:- "There were no reported burglaries on the ward from 11/11/20 to 17/11/20, but there were two reported thefts of motor vehicles for the same period. On Thursday 12/11/2020 at 2202 hours a blue Vauxhall Zafira index WP04 JTY was reported stolen from Woolwich Road. The victim had the keys to the vehicle. On Thursday 12/11/20 at 1610 hours a silver Vauxhall Astra index KA07 FKK was reported stolen from a car park in Woolwich Road".

The end video this week is a new, short documentary on the Angerstein Wharf branch line, and the history of Angerstein Wharf. If you are not aware of the branch line, I have written about it in the past; it is the oldest full gauge freight railway line in the world. It connects to the North Kent mainline just outside of Westcombe Park Station, and runs parallel to the Northbound approach road to the Blackwall Tunnel for some length. Comments to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

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