I took the photos of the work being carried out to Pier Square in Erith earlier this week - click on any image to see a larger view. I have visited the site on numerous occasions since the reconstruction and refurbishment of the site began; whilst work is obviously being undertaken, I have yet to actually see a construction worker appear. The work is scheduled to finish by the end of January - something I feel is excessively optimistic. If you click on and see the uppermost of the three photos, you will see that someone has written a message on the promotional banner affixed to the temporary fencing around the site. I have to say that I completely agree with the anonymous authors' sentiments - the destruction of mature trees previously on the site was unnecessary. What do you think? Email me at the usual address - email@example.com.
I have in the past written of my amazement that the Maggot Sandwich gets read in many places that are wildly outside of the area that its various subjects cover. Previously I have written about the geographical diversity of my readership - I have regular readers in countries including, but not limited to - Siberia, Brazil, the USA, Japan and, what to my knowledge is my most remote from the UK reader, a chap in Hobart, Tasmania. Last week I was contacted by a reader who was originally from Erith, but know lives and works in the town of Geraldton in Western Australia. Ian is my latest guest writer, who shares some of his story, and his recollections of living in Erith, prior to his starting a new life in Australia. Ian writes:- "I am a long-time reader of the Maggot Sandwich as an ex-pat Erithian now living in Western Australia. Your blog is always very interesting and informative regarding local Erith machinations. I was particularly interested in your blog of 14th November 2021 regarding the BBC (Acorn) model B computer. At the time of its release, I worked for the Training Branch of the Department of Trade and Industry and the BBC Model B was utilised for training staff in the basics of computers. I took delivery of 100 of the machines to distribute to staff for training purposes. I became quite proficient in BASIC but the computers became quite problematic in practical use due to the downloading of software from a domestic cassette tape recorder. Unfortunately, we were not provided with the purpose-built 5.25 inch floppy disc drivers available later on. It would take some time to download programs and they would often crash part way through the process due to tape drop out, playback levels or connector issues. This became quite off-putting for many people. I remember one Under Secretary ringing me up complaining about the machine stating "....these things will never catch on" - in very 'Yes Minister' style! I went on to work in the Industry/Education unit of the Department, responsible for the Computers In Schools program. The aim of the program was to provide at least one computer to every state school in the country. We had a variety of computers in the office for 'testing purposes', including BBC, Sinclair, Commodore and IBM. It was fun playing some of the games (Frogger was a particular favourite in the office!). I went on to facilitate the ITeC centre scheme which provided computer learning centres throughout the UK, many in the most deprived areas in order to stimulate economic growth. I also remember the introduction of the first word processor in the department which would eventually make a whole room of typists redundant and herald the 'paperless office' - how ironic was that claim! I spent many years commuting from Erith station into central London for work, which brings me to another part of the same blog - the double decker trains. Although I never had the experience of traveling on one, I distinctly remember seeing them on the Dartford to Charring Cross route sometime in the middle to late sixties. At that time, I lived in Riverdale Road and attended West Street school. My walk to school included crossing the railway line at the bottom of Pembroke Road. Before the bridge over the railway line was built you had to utilise the level crossing gates operated by the Crossing Man who lived in the adjacent cottage. I remember being in awe of the double decker train as it trundled past the crossing. I could not understand why they didn't catch on - especially as some years later I would be crammed into the standard single level stock for 2 hours each day commuting to work! I haven't lived in Erith since 1983 but still have fond memories of playing in the old loam quarry off Athol Road (which was still operational when I was a kid), the old Tivoli cinema on the corner of Riverdale Road/Fraser Road (it had long been closed but was sometimes accessible - a magical experience for us kids), learning to swim in the open air swimming pool (perhaps not such fond memories!), the Vox factory, the steam train from Frasers to the wharf crossing West Street, the Ethnic Erithians etc etc. I was also there when the destruction of Erith town centre commenced with the ceremonial demolition ball hitting the window of Mitchells Department store and the subsequent mutilation of the other beautiful Victorian shops on Pier Road. The concrete monstrosity which replaced it was a recipe for disaster, with perhaps the exception of the TW record shop with the strange purple stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the 'if it ain't on the shelf we ain't got it' customer service!I left Erith in 1984 and moved to central London to work in the NHS. In 1998 I emigrated to Australia and I now work in an Aboriginal prison near Geraldton in the mid-west of Western Australia - certainly a contrast to my years in Erith! My parents remained in Riverdale Road until my mother moved to Bexleyheath after the death of my father in 2002. That was the last time I was back in Erith! It is great that I can keep up to date with the local news and developments by reading your blog - so thanks for that! On a side note, as a teenager some friends and I formed a group called the Ethnic Erithians. We used to rehearse in St Johns Hall. We weren't very good, but there are a couple of songs on youtube posted by my friend Tony Allen". One thing I forgot to mention in regards to my fledgling group, the Ethnic Erithians (and the principal reason for mentioning it!) - someone had graffitied our name on the Erith Railway sign at the top of Fraser Road. Steve Nieve (of Elvis Costello and the Attractions fame) was living in Erith then and saw the graffiti one day on his way to the station. At the time he was recording his first solo album, 'Keyboard Jungle'. Inspired by the graffiti he called the first track The Ethnic Erithian! This was confirmed by him during a contemporaneous Radio One interview".
Electric vehicle and technology correspondent for the Maggot Sandwich, local resident Miles has been extremely busy recently. He is one of the very first UK adopters of a new kind of internet access. The system uses a network of low earth orbit satellites to link areas of the world that do not have fibre optic or traditional copper cable connectivity. The system is called Starlink, and it is owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and run through his commercial aerospace company SpaceX, the project aims to beam strong broadband connections across the globe using a network of thousands of satellites. Satellite broadband as we know it today uses a lot of the same technology you already benefit from on a day-to-day basis, like satellite TV and GPS. However, that technology can't be relied on to fit the modern-day demand for broadband, due to the limited amount of data it can transmit at any given time. To ensure much faster satellite broadband speeds, Starlink instead transmits data through lasers, which like fibre-optic broadband means it travels at lightspeed, the fastest possible pace anything can physically move. While fibre-optic cables rely on pulses of light rather than lasers to work, both methods allow for roughly similar broadband speeds. In order to ensure the laser signal is both robust and broad, an individual Starlink satellite will work with four others in its nearby network to provide a reliable connection. This means there needs to be an extensive network of them orbiting the globe in order for the coverage to be truly widespread. For the first part of the project, this means as many as 12,000 satellites will be launching into Low Earth Orbit over the coming years, but if it sees continued success, this could expand to a total of 42,000. Numbers like this can appear quite intimidating, especially given that we’re already facing a problem with the amount of space debris currently circling our planet — an issue that could impact future launches and damage working satellites if uncontrolled. However, SpaceX has remained mindful of this risk (called the ‘Kessler syndrome’), and therefore will launch the majority of its fleet into such a low orbit that by the time they fall out of use, they'll simply be pulled into the atmosphere and completely burned-up, instead of being left to circle the earth as dead equipment for centuries. The satellite broadband you can currently get is typically a lot slower than any existing form of traditional broadband, due to the high latency of the type of signal it uses and the distance from the satellite to the user’s dish. However, with Starlink, the use of lasers to transmit data allows it to provide a significantly faster satellite internet connection than ever before seen. Starlink once said that in perfect conditions — which would be periods of low consumer demand while there are lots of nearby orbiting satellites — it could reach consistent speeds up to 150Mbps download and 40Mbps upload. A recent test with the US Air Force even saw it hit ultrafast speeds of 600Mbps, though it’s currently unclear if consumers will have the infrastructure available to achieve the same level. SpaceX itself tells users to expect between 50-150Mbps. Regardless, these are game-changing speeds for areas that currently have little-to-no connection at all, and are even genuinely competitive with some of the fastest existing broadband connections in areas where good infrastructure is already in place. While Starlink does plan on limiting its contribution to space junk, the very act of launching tens of thousands of satellites into orbit in the short space of a few years is very concerning for many — especially given that we’re still in the early stages of developing technology to remove all the existing debris of dead satellites still orbiting the planet, which is already proving a problem. the sheer number of satellites in the network is likely to disrupt avid stargazers and even potentially affect light pollution once it’s fully rolled out. Yes, launching into low-earth orbit helps to reduce the amount of space debris, but in turn it makes the equipment a lot more visible to the naked eye at night. While the Starlink chains in the sky were a spectacle at first, they could end up momentarily disturbing our view of interstellar space. With all of that in mind, technology correspondent Miles writes of his early experience with the use of Starlink in Erith:- "Starlink 'Dishy' has made its appearance this afternoon, I'm already quite impressed. I plonked it on the lawn and plugged it in (via the catflap, who knew they had multiple purposes). Within about two minutes the dish aligned itself with the satellites, it more or less worked straight away. As I've previously said my garden is quite small so I'm a bit limited with good spots for antennas, however this transceiver looks to be coping well. Initial tests are reporting back with 120/30 mbit speeds - as I understand there is a firmware update you need to wait to install, once upgraded those speeds should double. Latency is almost comparable with my home broadband at about 20ms - if you asked me to perform a blind test I frankly wouldn't notice the difference compared to a hardwired line with current conditions. Once my portable battery bank arrives I look forward to taking the dish portable to see how it performs. Whilst it has been undoubtedly incredibly expensive to build such a constellation, I believe it has enormous potential - far outweighing Tesla. It could impact everything from the financial sector through reduced latency from London to New York, to societal and economic changes. It'll be interesting to see how the world adapts to this new technology; if it becomes sufficiently accessible it could be more disruptive than the advent of the internet. A couple of key facts before I sign off. The dish can move on the X and Y axis, and also has a heating element to melt any snow that makes itself unwelcome. Despite its ability to physically move, the phased array antenna renders that unrequired once the initial bootstrap has completed. As I understand this particular model is sold at a substantial loss, SpaceX have followed up with two new models which "trims the fat" to bring the bill of materials down".Miles has posted a short unboxing video on YouTube, which shows his Starlink equipment as it arrived at his home. You can watch the video below. Comments as always to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.