Sunday, August 08, 2021

132 percent.

I took the photo above last Tuesday evening. The blatant fly tipping is nothing new; for some reason the dead end that is Appold Street, adjacent to Morrison's car park in Erith is a favourite for the local criminal fly tipping fraternity. In fact, diagonally opposite the dumped easy chair, cushions and the shopping trolley full of rubbish bags were dozens of empty Nitrous Oxide metal bottles, which had been dumped in the gutter by some unknown drug addict. Appold Street is lined by historic terraced cottages and has a bridge which once went over the now long gone industrial narrow gauge railway that was used by nearby factories to transport materials. It is frustrating and annoying for residents to have their home environment treated as a dumping ground. According to the latest statistics for fly-tipping in England which covers 2019/20, over 75,000 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued for fly-tipping – an increase of 32 percent since 2016 when councils were given the power to issue fly-tipping FPNs. Prosecutions have also more than doubled over the same period, with total court fines last year totalling nearly £1.2 million. Councils in England dealt with 976,000 fly-tipping incidents, an increase of 2 percent from the 957,000 reported in 2018/19, with the most common size category being equivalent to a ‘small van load’ of waste (34 percent of total incidents), followed by the equivalent of a ‘car boot or less’ (28 percent). Head of Regulation at the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Sam Corp, said, in an interview in The Circular magazine - “Today’s figures show that fly-tipping is unfortunately on the rise, with nearly a million incidents in England alone during 2019/29. “Fly-tipping is one of the most common and pervasive environmental crimes, which affects not just the environment, but also has social, economic and health implications too. Regulating against this behaviour and prosecuting offenders is challenging and, coupled with relatively low penalties even when an offender is convicted, these factors unfortunately make fly-tipping a low-risk and high-reward crime.” Last year the government set up a new unit to tackle the most serious cases. The Joint Unit for Waste Crime is targeting the organised criminal gangs that make millions by dumping waste on an industrial scale. Councils are able to issue on-the-spot fines to fly-tippers of up to £400 and can stop, search and seize vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping. Local authorities and the Environment Agency are also able to issue penalties of up to £400 to householders who do not pass their waste to a licensed carrier and whose waste is then found fly-tipped. Fly-tippers can also be prosecuted and taken to court, which can lead to a significant fine and/or up to 12 months imprisonment if convicted in a Magistrates’ Court or an unlimited fine and/or up to 5 years imprisonment if convicted in a Crown Court. Fly-tipping prosecutions are “highly successful”, Defra says, with over 98 percent of prosecutions resulting in a conviction in 2019/20. The Environment Agency is also clamping down on waste crime and large-scale illegal dumping. Between 2017 and 2020, the Agency stopped illegal waste activity at 2,700 sites and initiated 191 prosecutions for illegal waste sites, with 39 prison sentences handed down. It also issued fines of over £1.1m for illegal waste sites, plus £5.5m in Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 confiscation orders. In 2019/20 alone, the Agency prosecuted nearly 100 individuals and companies for waste crime offences, with fines exceeding £900,000, 28 custodial sentences and £1m of confiscation orders. How the recent (and currently ongoing) strike by Serco employees who collect Bexley's rubbish on behalf of Bexley Council will affect the local levels of fly tipping is currently unknown. A poll has been carried out by a furniture company into the public’s attitude towards fly tipping; the results, if accurate, are quite surprising. An astonishing seventeen percent of the people surveyed admitted having fly tipped on at least one occasion. Of that seventeen percent, the reasons they stated for their fly tipping broke down as follows:- 1. There is nowhere else to take rubbish (38 percent) 2. Unaware it was illegal (30 percent) 3. It was the easiest option available (28 percent) 4. The cost of disposing properly was too high (20 percent) 5. Because they didn’t realise they were fly-tipping at the time (16 percent). I find this utterly staggering, and frankly somewhat hard to believe; for a start, if the respondents were only allowed to pick one response, how come it adds up to 132 percent?. According to Government statistics, local authorities reported 852,000 cases of fly-tipping last year, and almost 98 percent of fly-tipping prosecutions resulted in a conviction. I feel that the responses listed above are actually covering the real truth. From my own experiences investigating fly – tipping, the proponents are well aware of what they are doing is illegal – but they just don't care, as they think the chances of them being caught are minimal at best. It is a cynical and exploitative attitude from criminals who should (and indeed sometimes do) get jailed for their activitiesInterestingly, as I was writing this piece, I got an Email from a long time Maggot Sandwich reader (a person of some local standing) who wrote:- "I got fined £150 for fly tipping yesterday. Took 1 bin bag of cardboard and 1 of plastic to Morrison’s recycling banks. They were full so left them on the roof of the bins. I’m absolutely fuming. I tried to do the right thing and got hammered. Shall just leave all the bags on my pavement from now on". It occurs to me that Bexley Council, or their assigned contractors are trying to penalise people trying to use the recycling centres around the borough for the council's failure to properly empty the recycling containers in a timely and responsible manner. In essence, punishing residents for the council's lack of action. What do you think? Email me in confidence to

Five years ago this week, Harriet Harper, the then Project Manager for Regeneration and Assets for Bexley Council sent the following message to members of (the now defunct) Erith Town Forum:- "I am emailing to update you on Erith Market; unfortunately a number of stall holders are unable to attend the market tomorrow and it has therefore had to be cancelled. As you are aware, the market launched as a trial in March and it has proved difficult to establish it as a weekly event in Erith due to a number of reasons. We feel this gives us a good opportunity to evaluate the lessons learned from the trial period and assess it in light of the feedback received. We will be instigating a temporary break for the market and will be working with key partners to re-launch a market later in the year. I trust the above is if assistance and we will continue to keep you informed. Please get in touch with with any feedback on the market that you would like us to consider". Unfortunately this marked the end for the very short - lived revival of Erith Market. From the outset, it felt to me that the market had been "set up to fail" - on one of the first market days, there was an artisan bakers stall, who was selling small loaves of bread for £3.60. This might have been feasible at Hall Place farmer's market, but it was never going to work in a less affluent part of the borough such as Erith. One local resident commented at the time that:-"I hear are giving Erith Market a trial go. When they know it will fail before they start. They only seem to be catering for the unemployed and the elderly. Because they are the only one that can go to the market. The market should have been bigger and on Wednesdays and Saturdays like it used to be. Saturdays for the people that go to work all week". The comment sadly proved to be prophetic, and no further attempt was made by the council to relaunch the market. 

More promotion work is currently being undertaken to encourage local people to book an appointment for a Smart Meter “upgrade”. The whole UK Smart Meter programme was meant to have been completed in mid 2020, but so far only around forty percent of electricity users have had a Smart Meter fitted. The government are blaming the Covid-19 lock down for the delay, but the reality is far more complex. The back down from a universal, UK wide Smart Meter roll out actually happened four years ago, when it was announced in the 2017 Conservative party manifesto, that Smart Meters would no longer be required. One word made all the difference: - “everyone will be offered a smart meter by 2020”. If there is someone who is responsible for the bloat and overreach of the roll out, the finger would have to be squarely pointed at former energy minister Ed Miliband who initiated the whole situation. By putting the onus on energy suppliers to install smart meters at their own expense, Ed Miliband made an elementary mistake. Unlike their name suggests, most energy suppliers have little to do with the infrastructure and engineering of getting gas and electricity from power stations into homes. They are nothing more than glorified billing companies with middlemen buying energy at the wholesale level to resell it to residential consumers. While the UK government decided to rush into smart meters and throw caution to the wind, other countries did not share such temerity. Belgium, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, and Slovakia all extensively researched the viability of switching to smart meters. They unanimously concluded that the cost-benefit just was not in favour of smart meters. Germany went as far as hiring noted consulting firm EY to evaluate smart meters on a national scale. The conclusion was that smart meters “would be economically unreasonable for the majority of German consumers”. Smart meters were invented by Theodore Paraskevakos, a Boeing engineer in the 1970s, who pioneered data transmission over phone lines for telecoms and security applications such as caller ID and remote fire alarms. With this in mind, one would think that smart meter technology would be mature and long established, but nothing could be further from the truth. SMETS stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specification, and it contains the basic feature set and security requirements set forth by the Department of Energy and Climate Change that all smart meter manufacturers have to abide by. SMETS 1 meters are essentially able to send back energy consumption data to the energy supplier that installed them over a mobile phone network. The format in which the energy usage information is transmitted is entirely at the discretion of the smart meter manufacturer and the energy supplier that chose them. While this is all well and good if you live in a country where you only have a handful of suppliers who have agreed on a standard, that is certainly not the case in the UK. With a completely deregulated market where energy customers are encouraged to shop around and switch between a bewildering number of energy providers, SMETS 1 meter compatibility is almost certain to break at the first switch. SMETS 2 is supposed to rectify this glaring flaw by having a new generation of meters connected to a positively Orwellian centralised energy data clearing house called the Data Communications Company (DCC). This allows meters to retain their smart functionality no matter the energy supplier. While this may sound great on paper, keep in mind that the DCC, the crown jewel of the smart meter network, only came online seven years after the rollout started. Even then it only started to operate “at scale” two years ahead of the 2020 goal and yet it is supposed to be the backbone for this whole scheme. However, being late isn’t the only issue for the DCC. The smart meter installed base remains predominantly in the SMETS1 camp, with its compatibility issues, while installers only started to put in SMETS2 meters fairly recently. These meters are part of the "internet of things". I have noticed that several of the national energy companies are currently targeting local residents with letters asking them to make an appointment to get their current electricity and gas meters replaced with a smart meter. Personally I have received three such letters from my energy supplier, EDF. As I have mentioned before, Smart Meters send real – time power usage data back to the supplier via a 3G / 4G  mobile phone signal. This means that the meter does not have to be connected to a home data network. This sounds all well and good; the power company can bill you without having to send a meter reader to your house, and you get the option to monitor your power usage in an almost real – time way. There are however, problems. The data sent from the Smart Meter to the supplier is sent unencrypted, and “in the clear”; it is possible to intercept the data stream, and also a malicious attacker can potentially send instructions to the meter remotely. Several Smart Meter companies do tacitly admit this, but they play the whole lack of security aspect down. Secondly if one discounts the security implications, the various energy companies all supply different makes of Smart Meters, many of which are incompatible with each other. If you choose to change your energy supplier at some point in the future, you will need to have your Smart Meter changed again – with the associated additional cost to you that this implies. Smart meters merely report energy use, and cannot turn off lights or turn on appliances to control energy use. The responsibility for sensible energy saving still falls on the householder / energy user. Smart meters have the potential to tap into the Internet of Things (IoT), like connected thermostats and other autonomous home appliances, but they operate on the Zigbee protocol which does not have uniform support across the smart home industry. This means that the potential for UK smart meters to operate home heating and appliances automatically to drive energy savings is hampered by proprietary standards. Smart meters are said to make energy use more visible to residential energy customers through their in-home displays, which reflect consumption data in real-time. This, in turn, is supposed to encourage people to cut down on their energy use. However, as energy expert Kathryn Porter notes in a recent article in “The Switch” website, this presupposes that customers remain engaged past the initial honeymoon phase and actually follow through with making the necessary changes. While it may sound great on paper, studies have shown that few customers use the in-home displays (IHD) after its novelty has worn off. Tellingly on the EDF letter there are a series of frequently asked questions. EDF initially state in the letter that “your current meter is old and now needs to be replaced – you need to book an appointment for an engineer to carry out this work”. They then go on to stress how old meters can be inaccurate and possibly unsafe. There is a giveaway in the FAQ’s that follow though – and I quote verbatim:- “Occasionally we may be unable to install a Smart Meter, usually due to communications issues with signal strength. If this happens we will not replace your meter, but will contact you again when we believe the Smart Meter national infrastructure will be able to support a Smart Meter in your premises.” There is the smoking gun – they don't actually need to replace the meter for the accuracy and safety concerns expressed earlier – they purely want to do it to make you have a Smart Meter, with all the security, privacy and expense worries that they entail. I have a preferred technique for dealing with such unwanted attention – I ignore everything they send me until they eventually give up and go away. Smart Meters primarily benefit the energy companies, because they no longer need to employ meter readers. The benefits to the consumer are minimal at best, and when allied to the security and compatibility concerns mentioned earlier, along with the fact a Smart Meter does not really enable the end user to make any significant cost savings; they don't add up for me. In my opinion, in their current form, Smart Meters are a solution looking for a problem. As always, your mileage may vary. What do you think? Email me at

The photo above shows Erith Odeon cinema and the RACS shop adjacent to it, on opposite sides of James Watt Way. The photo was taken in July 1966. In 1936 Coles designed the "Odeon", Erith as an absolutely typical Odeon, with its slim faience-faced advertising tower contrasting with the more horizontally emphasised brick and faience body of the cinema. It opened on 26 February 1938 and seated 1,240 people. The cinema was later used as a bingo hall but was later illegally demolished, and now a block of flats with offices and the new Erith Library stand in its place. The RACS shop has also long been demolished, and is now the site of a KFC drive through takeaway. The dockside cranes in Erith Deep Water Wharf that can be seen in the distance between the buildings are now where the giant Morrison's supermarket is now located. 

If you are a regular Maggot Sandwich reader, and you are on my mailing list, it is possible that over the last couple of weeks you have not received my weekly Email announcing the publication of the latest Blog update. The reason for this is down to your Internet Service Provider. If you have an Email address that is @btinternet or @btopenworld, then at present you will not receive any Email traffic from me. This is because for some currently unknown reason, anything I send to a BT domain is getting blocked as Spam. I have raised the issue with BT technical support, and they are looking into it. I would not hold your breath as to a prompt resolution to this issue; BT are notorious for their slow and bureaucratic processes. I know - I once worked for them.  

A technology anniversary has just been and gone with no celebration, yet the current version of the application is in use in millions of businesses and homes worldwide. The undocumented birthday was that for Microsoft Excel. The now dominant spreadsheet was originally released for the Apple Mac in August 1985 (and in the UK in October of the same year). This makes it 36 years old in its original incarnation. Microsoft originally marketed a spreadsheet program called Multiplan in 1982, which was very popular on text based CP/M systems, but on MS-DOS systems it lost popularity to Lotus 1-2-3. This promoted development of a new spreadsheet called Excel which started with the intention to, in the words of Microsoft's Doug Klunder, 'do everything 1-2-3 does and do it better'. The first version of Excel was released for the Mac in 1985 and the first Windows version (numbered 2.0 to line-up with the Mac and bundled with a run-time Windows environment) was released in November 1987. Lotus was slow to bring 1-2-3 to Windows and by 1988 Excel had started to outsell 1-2-3 and helped Microsoft achieve the position of leading PC software developer. This accomplishment, dethroning the king of the software world, solidified Microsoft as a valid competitor and showed its future of developing graphical software. Microsoft pushed its advantage with regular new releases, every two years or so. Early in its life Excel became the target of a trademark lawsuit by another company already selling a software package named "Excel" in the finance industry. As the result of the dispute Microsoft was required to refer to the program as "Microsoft Excel" in all of its formal press releases and legal documents. However, over time this practice has been ignored, and Microsoft cleared up the issue permanently when they purchased the trademark to the other program. Microsoft also encouraged the use of the letters XL as shorthand for the program; while this is no longer common, the program's icon still consists of a stylised combination of the two letters, and the file extension of the default Excel format is .xls. Excel offers many user interface tweaks over the earliest electronic spreadsheets; however, the essence remains the same as in the original spreadsheet, VisiCalc: the cells are organised in rows and columns, and contain data or formulas with relative or absolute references to other cells. Excel was the first spreadsheet that allowed the user to define the appearance of spreadsheets (fonts, character attributes and cell appearance). It also introduced intelligent cell recomputation, where only cells dependent on the cell being modified are updated (previous spreadsheet programs recomputed everything all the time or waited for a specific user command). Excel has extensive graphing capabilities. When first bundled into Microsoft Office in 1993, Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint had their GUIs redesigned for consistency with Excel, the killer app on the PC at the time. Since 1993, Excel has included Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), a programming language based on Visual Basic which adds the ability to automate tasks in Excel and to provide user defined functions (UDF) for use in worksheets. VBA is a powerful addition to the application which, in later versions, includes a fully featured integrated development environment (IDE). Macro recording can produce VBA code replicating user actions, thus allowing simple automation of regular tasks. VBA allows the creation of forms and in-worksheet controls to communicate with the user. The automation functionality provided by VBA has caused Excel to become a target for macro viruses. This was a serious problem in the corporate world until antivirus products began to detect these viruses. Microsoft belatedly took steps to prevent the misuse by adding the ability to disable macros completely, to enable macros when opening a workbook or to trust all macros signed using a trusted certificate.  Many of us use Excel as part of our jobs nowadays - and I reckon that many are not aware of the long and rich history the application has. Whilst in very widespread use, it is not the only spreadsheet available, despite what Microsoft might have you believe. Happy 36th birthday Excel.

The end video this week is an entertaining and somewhat tongue in cheek look into just why Greater London is divided into a total of 32 different boroughs. Any comments or suggestions can be sent to me at the usual address -

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