Two of the articles I published in last week's Blog update provoked a huge reader response. I have had a large number of Emails from readers wishing to express their opinion on the twin subjects of local fly tipping, and also on the question of smart energy meters. Not all of the respondents wished to have their replies published, but those who have given me permission to publish are reproduced here for your information. The first response comes from a long time Maggot Sandwich reader who was born and raised in Upper Belvedere, but who now resides in the West Country. He works as a Director of a large national charity. He writes:- "Smart meters: I have had to deal with a number of over-charging and post energy-supplier-switch issues for the people I support. For this reason, I am refusing to have one because of the well documented cases where suppliers have been switched and the meter then does not function correctly leading to excessive overcharging and a nightmare trying to resolve. I most recently took on a case for a disabled veteran with Shell Energy https://help.shellenergy.co.uk/hc/en-us/articles/360002328578-Issues-with-your-Smart-Meter. I don't deny that for disabled or older people who are unable to read their meter they make sense but I personally refuse to have something using power in my house that is designed to tell me to use less power! Fly tipping: here in Somerset fees were introduced for the recycling of rubble and plasterboard etc and the result was a big up-surge in dumping of these materials. I can see the Council's position - if you got a skip then you would have to pay (increasingly high charges) so it is attractive to put bags of building waste in the car and take to the tip, but any introduction of fees will always encourage the minority to fly-tip. After a recent fly-tipping incident here I reported it on a really good website: https://clearwaste.com and within a fortnight the waste had been removed and a fine served on the perpetrator (who had left a wheelbarrow wheel trail from his property to the waste!)". Another reader writes:- "To my point, the refuse situation at the moment is beyond a joke. With the current strike rubbish is building up everywhere and fly tipping is getting significantly worse. My patio has at least a car or two loads of recycling. It's got to the point I'm going to hire the local 'man with a van' to get rid of everything - my concern, and per your article I'm worried it'll just be dumped on the marshes. The person who emailed you was in the exact same situation as me. I took some cardboard down to Morrisons, just as the commentator said all the bins were overflowing (related to Serco?). I was debating whether to leave it in my car or put it aside. I suppose we'll see if I also get fined shortly. If Facebook and the people I've contacted are anything to go by the white van men are making a small fortune - I wonder how much the clean up will end up costing, especially since the strike has now been extended another two weeks (and no guarantee it'll end by then). The smart meter write up was great, and interested me as it always does. I have spoken with you about it in the past, when I was getting pestered by letter to have a water meter. I answered the letters with a phone call, which often ended up with me getting agitated, saying you’re not fitting a meter in my house as long as I draw breath! On the last occasion, a nice woman on the end of the phone said “humour them, and let an engineer visit, then I’m sure the letters will stop”. I did this, and a young fellow arrived on the specified day at an arranged time. He said “can I come in”. No was the answer! I said “your only option here is to fit a meter in the path”. The letters did stop, I’m convinced because it wouldn’t be easy for them to site a meter in the pathway, because of complexities with the shared feed to four properties. I’m sure I would be the same with other utilities if pestered in the future. What gives them the right to do what they like, and to encroach on your space!" Another long term reader, also resident in the rural West Country wrote the following submission:-"I just cannot see the point of the meters and really worry about the security risks. If anyone can break into your system, they could cause havoc, especially during the winter. I have enough trouble with my electricity supply here, as my line runs down from a junction box in my awful farmer neighbour's yard and along her verge on poles. She never trims her trees so the branches short the supply, her hired tractors break the line (they are enormous, much too large for the lane to accommodate) and she periodically seems to hit the junction box with her Land Rover. That reminds me I need to get on to the power company to have the trees trimmed! As for fly tipping, it is a real problem out here in the countryside, not just in towns. We are now on 3 weekly bin collections here with weekly recycling, but as a single person I fill half a bin in 3 weeks so families are finding it impossible. That will inevitably lead to more rubbish being dumped in the streets and fields. As you say, the real issue is not enough bin emptying. I am also dead against the takeaway industry. You would not believe what I pick up on my lane - everything from bottles, cans and plastic cups to sandwich and burger cartons. People just toss them out of their vehicles or wherever they have eaten or drunk the contents". Another, local reader submitted the following opinion for publication:-"I've had five letters in the last two years (at least, in that I have five in my possession, I might have thrown some away) plus e-mails. Supplier is SSE (alias Ovo, its gone downhill since they took over). My irritation is that one of the two standard letters they send contains 'You'll receive an in-Home display that shows your energy use, so you can see where to save'. (My emphasis) My argument is it does nothing of the sort. It shows me my energy use <full stop>. I don't even think it tells me when to save, never mind where. Electricity use may be high simply because you are carrying out an electricity intensive task; it is no point even comparing with yesterday or last week as I do not do the same things at the same time. I started feeling aggrieved when my mother was still alive and they contacted her about a smart meter. She felt the cold and would apologise for wanting an electric fire on. I was concerned that she would see the dial turning round or the figures rising and refrain from asking. The last thing I wanted was for her to suffer cold in her last few years while people jetted across half the world on holiday. I am of the general opinion that anything proceeded by the word 'Smart' is something I can do without!. They also drone on about how I won't get estimated bills, I don't in any case I read the meter (that seems to generate a letter, I wouldn't have to do that if I had a smart meter - it's a two minute exercise, the meter is head height so the claim of 'no more hunting under the stairs' is rather redundant - it's a bungalow). What is irritating is that they never read the meter. I saw the meter reader last April, asked him what company he was reading for, it included SSE, so I opened the garage, made sure that the meter was easily accessible by moving the mower, came out of next-doors and straight past. He reckoned it was not on his list. This has been going on for at least two years". I received several other Emails from readers, but the authors chose not to have their opinions published, which I will always respect. As you can see, the twin issues of fly tipping and smart power meters touched a nerve with readers. The usual rule of thumb is for most Bloggers, you will get a response on any given subject from something like one percent of your readership. If you have anything you wish to share with a wider audience, then please Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many people who have been working from home during the pandemic have seen their use of printing increase dramatically. There are reports in the IT press that sales of printer ink have increased by around 23 percent in the last year. I must admit that I find this remarkable; I was of the opinion that the need to physically print documents onto paper was pretty much a relic of the past. It would strongly appear that I was wrong. Consumer advocate Which? has carried out a detailed survey and discovered that not only is physical printing back on the ascendant after years of being slowly phased out, but that printer ink is one of the most expensive consumable resources around. Printing has become essential for plenty of workers holed up at home during the pandemic. The survey by Which? of 10,000 consumers found 54 per cent use their printer at least once a week. Which? said it estimates an inkjet cartridge would need to be replaced three times a year. The report discovered tactics used by the big vendors to promote the use of "approved", "original", and "guaranteed" ink supplies. It found Epson devices, for example, flagging up a "non-genuine ink detected" message on its LCD screen when using a non-Epson cartridge, and HP printers are actively blocking customers from using non-HP supplies. Adam French, a consumer rights champion at Which?, reckons this situation is simply unacceptable. "Printer ink shouldn't cost more than a bottle of high-end Champagne or Chanel No. 5," said French. "We've found that there are lots of third-party products that are outperforming their branded counterparts at a fraction of the cost." In a rallying call to consumers he said that third-party ink should be a personal choice and not "dictated by the make of your printer." Now for another technology inspired story; this one is of a significant anniversary. Who says I don't plan these things?
This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the first IBM PC going on sale. Looking back, the launch of the original PC was a real revolution in computing, but this all actually happened as a bit of an accident – IBM never expected the PC (the original model was actually named the 5150, but most people nowadays are not aware of this). It is fair to say that the IBM PC 5150 turned out to be one of the most influential computers ever invented, and its descendants are still used by billions of people on a daily basis. Not bad for a machine that almost never happened. When it was first mooted that IBM was going to build a PC, a senior executive reportedly asked the simple question: “Why would anyone want to take a computer home with them?” But IBM at the time was struggling financially, and its leadership had not failed to notice that many of its competitors were already selling minicomputers, as well as microcomputers from the likes of Commodore, Atari, Tandy and Apple. IBM was late to the game and it knew it. It developed the IBM PC 5150 in just twelve months. It was widely rumoured that IBM did not expect to sell many of these machines, and it was reported in the media that IBM only ordered 40,000 machines to be made. The IBM PC 5150 proved to be a sales success, and it rapidly became the most influential commercial computer system of all time. Indeed, by the end of 1982 IBM was selling one PC every minute of the business day. That was despite a hefty price tag. Pricing in 1981 started at $1,565 (£1,209), which was the equivalent to $4,073 (£3,148) in 2021. On top of this high price, the machine was not exactly cutting edge. The 5150 boasted a 8088 CPU, 16K of RAM, expandable to 640K, and a colour graphics adapter. It included a monochrome IBM monitor, and also came with the option of a floppy disk or if you could not afford that, a cassette system. No hard disk drive was even an optional extra at launch – third party units became available (at huge additional cost) sometime later. Even by the standards of the early 1980’s, the original IBM 5150 PC was slow and expensive – but it had the badge “IBM” on the front, which counted for a huge amount – there was a contemporary saying “nobody gets fired for buying IBM” – and this proved to be true. On the upside, it was beautifully made out of very high quality materials, and it was supplied with what many regard as the very best keyboard ever. It also came with unparalleled technical support and maintenance – something businesses then and now value highly. Due to IBM’s rapid development of the 5150, it simply did not have the time to develop all the technology needed for the machine by itself. So the development team therefore opted to build the new machine mostly from existing “off the shelf” components. IBM opted to make the IBM PC an “open architecture” product. It even published a technical reference of the system’s circuit designs and software source codes. This meant that other firms could develop software and build peripheral components, and this is what changed the computing world. And soon other companies such as Compaq, Dell, and HP began to offer complete ‘IBM compatible’ PCs. Thus, the IBM PC rapidly became the industry standard. Software developers concentrated on the most popular platforms, and this meant that the IBM PC became the computer with the greatest variety of software available to it. You may recall that this came at a time of a “perfect storm” – the release of the PC, and the creation of the World’s first Spreadsheet – VisiCalc – also the first “killer app” – people would buy an Apple II or an IBM PC just to run VisiCalc. You can read a full account of the impact that VisiCalc had in the early to mid 1980’s business and academic computer market by clicking here. That decision was a doubled edged sword for IBM, as it effectively lost control of the market; over the next three decades, competition in the PC market was unrelentingly fierce, which eventually led IBM in 2005 to sell off its PC manufacturing division to Chinese computer producer Lenovo. The IBM compatible PC transformed the world. Certainly nowadays a lot of work can be done on smartphones and tablets, but in reality PCs (desktops or laptops) are still used for heavy duty work. Some industry commentators have suggested that we are now living in a “post PC” world, and while it is true that PC shipments were in decline prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still a massive industry that continues to be the bedrock for most businesses. The advent of hybrid devices such as the Microsoft Surface Pro series also suggests that the PC is continuing to evolve. But the PC is here to stay. IBM didn’t invent the personal computer, but the IBM PC 5150 certainly heralded the dawning of the computer age in many offices and households around the world. Happy 40th birthday PC!
The photo above - click on it for a larger version, shows committee members of Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association and their stall at the annual Thamesmead Festival, which took place yesterday in the park adjacent to Southmere Lake in Thamesmead. Yes, it is indeed yours truly in the photograph; I am a committee member, and also the press officer for the association. The event was well attended, with three large stages with various acts performing on them; there were a large number of food trucks and around a hundred stalls from independent traders and community groups. I had not visited the area for many years, and I was astonished at how pleasant it now is. The park is lovely, and well worth a visit when the weather is nice. Now for some feedback on local safety and security issues within the borough:- "Bexley is among the top 5 safest Boroughs in London and is among the top 5 safest overall out of London's 33 towns, villages, and cities. The overall crime rate in Bexley in 2020 was 63 crimes per 1,000 people. This compares favourably to London's overall crime rate, coming in 39% lower than the London rate of 87 per 1,000 residents. For England and Wales as a whole, Bexley is among the top 10 safest Boroughs, and the 1,732nd most dangerous location out of all towns, cities, and villages. The most common crimes in Bexley are violence and sexual offences, with 5,651 offences during 2020, giving a crime rate of 23. This is 2.8% higher than 2019's figure of 5,495 offences and a difference of 0.63 from 2019's crime rate of 22. Bexley's least common crime is bicycle theft, with 91 offences recorded in 2020, a decrease of 47% from 2019's figure of 134 crimes". I would recommend that if you would like more detail on the local crime situation, and the efforts made to fight it, you check out the official Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association Blog by clicking here. It is very regularly updated and contains a great deal of valuable information.
The end video this week features some footage from the 2017 Thamesmead Festival. Yesterday's event was significantly larger and more elaborate than the one in this video, but at the time of writing, no footage of the most recent festival has been uploaded to YouTube for public view. Please send any comment of other feedback to me at email@example.com.