Sunday, May 15, 2022

180.


I took the photo above - click on it for larger version - yesterday in Erith Town Centre. It shows one of the very first 180 buses running on the new route to link the Erith Quarry residential development with North Greenwich. This will allow residents to use the Elizabeth line from Abbey Wood when that opens in a couple of weeks. The 180 route is quite an old one and has existed in one form or another since October 1951 where it used to run between Plumstead and Lewisham, which was later extended to Lower Sydenham. Since then it has had many changes in route. The latest of which took place yesterday morning. Although the route description says that it starts from Erith Quarry and Fraser Road; in reality, it would appear that it is actually starting from the island bus stops used by the 99 and the 229 buses in Erith Town Centre. This is one of the most significant changes in a local bus route for at least a decade. The new route suns as follows:- Erith Quarry Fraser Road > Erith Town Centre > Erith Station > Yarnton Way > Abbey Wood > McLeod Road > Plumstead High Street  > Plumstead Station > Plumstead Road (For Elizabeth Line) > Woolwich Town Centre (For Woolwich Arsenal station - DLR & National Rail > Woolwich Ferry > Woolwich Road > Charlton > Millennium Village > North Greenwich Station. The 180 bus service fulfils a real need for the local area; as I have written in the past, there was a very short-lived and unsuccessful attempt at a private bus service running between Erith Quarry and Abbey Wood station. It was inaccurately called The Nuxley Navigator, which was partly sponsored by Ford. This service was launched in 2018; at the time they were virtually no residents living in Erith Quarry, and in any case few people from Erith wanted to use Abbey Wood station at the time. The Nuxley Navigator folded very quickly, never having really established a user base. It only ran from Monday to Friday during commuting hours, and it was substantially more expensive than using the bus. I feel that the re-routed 180 service is a far more practical and sustainable public transport solution. What do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Forty years ago, the very first Compact Disk players were released to the public. The 12 centimetre optical disc became the biggest money-spinner the music industry had ever seen, or will ever be likely to see. The birth of the Compact Disk actually began way back in 1957 with experiments involving a rudimentary video disc by the Italian Antonio Rubbiani, that stimulated an entire generation of scientists to think along the lines of digital technology. Almost 12 years after this, Philips started work on the Audio Long Play (ALP) disc that used the laser technology and which rivaled the traditional analogue vinyl records. The ALP discs played for longer times and occupied less space than their vinyl counterparts. Under the guidance of the technical director (audio) in Eindhoven, the Philips team tried many experiments with the digital disc technology, including the idea of quadraphonic sound that required a disc as big as 20 cm in diameter. These experiments were later abandoned. However, in 1978, the project took off on a more serious note and Philips launched the Compact Disc Project. The aim of the Compact Disc Project was for the new format to eventually replace both the analogue video equipment and the Compact Cassette Tape. Both were popular technologies at the time, that had been in use and established for a good many years.The name for the project (decided in 1977), Compact Disc Project, was chosen by Philips with the hope that it would bring to peoples’ minds, the Compact Cassette’s success. Philips, by then, had started paying more heed to the work done by its digital audio research department. All this research into the project led to a very interesting juncture.Philips, having already released the commercial laser disc player in to the market, was ahead of its competitors in terms of the physical design of the compact disc. However, Philips lacked the experience of digital audio recording to develop the compact disc any further. On the other hand, Sony, that was also working alongside to develop the Compact Disc, had exactly the opposite problem to contend with. Whereas it had over a decade of experience in developing and implementing the best digital audio circuitry, it lacked the know-how to make the actual physical CD. As a result of these developments, in 1979, during a conference in Japan, Philips and Sony stunned the world with the announcement that both the companies would jointly develop the Compact Disc. Thus, a new deal was forged, and the two companies worked together for the next few years. Engineers at Philips concentrated on the physical design of the disc: how the laser would read off the information from the pits and lands on the disc surface. Sony’s digital technology specialists worked on the analogue to digital conversion circuit design, with emphasis on the encoding of the digital signals and design of the error correction code. In the year 1980, Philips and Sony, in general acceptance of certain specifications regarding the CDs, brought out the Red Book. The name was attributed to the colour of the cover of the first publication. The Red Book contained specifications that included the size of the disc, the recording details, the sampling, and other standards, many of which remain unchanged even today. The CDs could be played in stereo systems, had a diameter of 120mm (making it portable and smaller than the vinyl record), and could hold an immense amount of data, much more than the vinyl record or the cassette did. The size of the CD has an interesting story to it: Philips’ idea of a 115mm CD had to be shelved because Sony insisted that the longest musical performance should fit on to the disc, which was Beethoven’s entire 9th Symphony, at 74 minutes, and the size of the CD was increased to 120mm. Soon after, Sony and Philips parted ways and started working separately, trying to produce their own CD-drive equipment. The first commercial CD drive was released a month earlier by Sony on 1st of October 1982, making it a notable event in the history of CD development. The CDP-101 Compact Disc Player by Sony hit the market first in Japan, followed by Europe. It did not reach the shores of America until the early part of 1983. Sony beat Philips once again for a second time when it released the first portable CD player in the year 1984. The time was ripe for commercial CDs to make a foray into the market. The first commercial CD to be pressed was Visitors by ABBA. Soon after this, the first album, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, followed. In spite of the concerns of the major music labels, the popularity of CDs soared and over a thousand different singles and albums were released in the first year alone. Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler was an early convert (the second track on Pure, Perfect Sound Forever, the promotional 1982 compilation that came free with early CD players, was Dire Straits’ Once Upon a Time in the West). Knopfler insisted on recording Brothers in Arms on state-of-the-art digital equipment, so a promotional partnership was a natural fit. Philips sponsored Dire Straits’ world tour and featured the band in TV commercials with the slogan, attributed to Knopfler: “I want the best. How about you?” Brothers in Arms was an iconic release, the CD came to symbolise the so-called yuppie generation, representing new material success and aspiration. If you owned a CD player it showed you were upwardly mobile. Its significance seemed to go beyond music to a lifestyle statement. It went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time, it revolutionised the music industry. For the first time, an album sold more on compact disc than on vinyl, and passed the one million units sold mark. Three years after the first silver discs had appeared in record shops,”Brothers in Arms” was the symbolic milestone that marked the true beginning of the CD era. “Brothers in Arms was the first flag in the ground that made the industry and the wider public aware of the CD’s potential,” says the British Phonographic Industry spokesperson Gennaro Castaldo, who began a long career in retail that year. “It was clear this was a format whose time had come.” CD sales overtook vinyl in 1988 and cassettes in 1991. It was not just in music that the Compact Disk had a great influence - but also in computer data storage.The electronics of the CD could be tweaked in a manner such that one would be able to store data on the disc that could be read by a computer. This was a landmark development in the history of CDs that had far-reaching effects. CDs would prove to be an ideal replacement for the existing floppy discs and would store a large amount of data in spite of their size. They would have a greater speed that positively impacted data access times. It was 1990 by the time the standard was ready for commercial use by businesses and individuals. The next major landmark was in the year 1995, when Sony initiated a move to standardise Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs), a plan that they had had in the pipeline. DVDs were not only expected to replace analogue video storage and video cassettes, but could also be used in computers in place of CD-ROMs and CD-Rs for data storage. The nine-company conglomerate that Sony pioneered for the purpose of standardisation ensured that DVDs could easily be accessed by the public. However, it is also true that DVDs are not completely standardised even till today as both DVD+Rs and DVD-Rs are still available in the market, offering slightly different functionality, however the difference can be considered negligible as they are quite small. The discoveries spurred by the development of CDs are, by themselves, astonishing. The development of the CD led directly to the DVD format and digital video recording. The impact of the simple disc on subsequent technology has still not stopped. The advent of the Blu-Ray disc, which brings high definition video in to our homes, is a direct descendant of the compact disc. It is ironic that on the 40th birthday of the launch of the CD - the idea of physical data storage media is starting to wane, and direct streaming to become the norm. What do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

As residents of Erith, Slade Green and Crayford will be painfully aware, there are certain times when local roads get incredibly congested with traffic heading either to or from the Dartford River Crossing. Certain roads such as Queen's Road by the De Luci fish roundabout, Manor Road and North End Road seem to suffer especially badly at certain times - for some reason Friday tends to be the day with the greatest congestion. The Dartford Crossing currently connects the two South East counties of Kent and Essex, but the M25, A282 and local roads are often backlogged with lines of traffic. However, there is a proposal for a revolutionary network that is estimated to wipe around 10 per cent of traffic off the roads while also improving the air quality in the region. This tentative proposal is for new tram network between Kent and Essex. The project, named KenEx, is aiming to provide a "sustainable public transport infrastructure" between the two counties. The proposals include a 1.2km submerged tunnel built under the Thames, enabling the connection between the north of Kent and south of Essex. A detailed map above shows a number of transport hubs across the two counties that could get their own tram station as part of the project, including Ebbsfleet International, Gravesend, Grays and Purfleet-on-Thames. The aim is to create an "integrated and enhanced local economy", which organisers say has never been enjoyed before by the communities on either side of the river. The project is expected to cost £800m, according to Thames Gateway Tramlink Ltd, which is just 10 per cent of the overall cost of the Lower Thames Crossing proposals. The proposed submerged tunnel under the River Thames would use the same technology that was successfully employed to create the Medway Tunnel, albeit on a somewhat larger scale. Tram travel is widely viewed as a suitable solution to local needs, with local councils and businesses said to be supporting the ambitious project. Immersed tunnel specialists COWI have already visited the site, and said in an article published on the Kent Live website: "We consider that the proposal has great merit and is certainly feasible."Official designs and proposals are "not due for some time", but anyone interested in the project can find out more by clicking here. Organisers say they are keen to hear feedback from locals in order to ensure they can cater to their needs. Personally I would like to see the Kent side be extended to mirror the greater number of stations on the Essex side of the river in the proposal. I feel that the tram system should also cover Dartford, Crayford, Slade Green, Erith and Lower Belvedere. What do you think? As always, you can contact me by Email at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Following my article last week on poisonous Giant Hogweed plants that can be found in the local area; another plant which can cause harm has come to light. Japanese Knotweed is not poisonous, but it can cause extensive damage. Environet UK has revealed the Japanese Knotweed hotspots for spring 2022 by using data from its online tracker heatmap, which is produced from reports of the weed verified by experts. The map shows data from 2019 - when it was launched -  to the current day, and allows users to enter their postcode to discover nearby sightings.  Click here to see the map and input your postcode. In my case there are eighteen reports of Japanese Knotweed within 4Km of my home address. Japanese Knotweed is a non – indigenous, invasive plant that grows prodigiously and can damage the foundations of buildings; it is very difficult to eradicate – the roots can go as far as ten feet deep, and if even a small portion of root is left in the ground, the entire plant will re – grow in short order. It is illegal in the UK to plant or spread Japanese Knotweed, and when it is pulled up it is legally classified as controlled waste that has to be disposed of by licensed landfill sites. Young shoots of Japanese knotweed are cooked and eaten in some countries – apparently it tastes like super sour rhubarb, but it contains a lot of Oxalic Acid, which is really not very good for you.

The following announcement was published by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association and the Metropolitan Police:- "Walk & Talks are open to women aged 18 and above, living or working in London, who would like to go for a walk with an officer in their local area and discuss their views on women’s safety. Those who take part in a Walk & Talk can share their views and experiences with officers as they walk through any areas they may feel vulnerable in. Patrols can take place at any time, including those where there is less footfall, traffic and light so officers can get a real sense of what their thoughts are. The aim of Walk & Talks is to start a conversation between members of the public and officers so we can listen and respond to concerns. Simply click here,  select your borough and book on".


Some more bad news in respect of local bank closures; after Barclays Bank in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre closed for good in February 2021, and Lloyds Bank in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere closed in March 2021, another branch is closing - the Barclays in Sidcup is scheduled to permanently close on August 10th at noon. It comes as Barclays revealed that only 265 customers use the Sidcup branch for banking. The bank has considered which other branches can be used nearby before deciding on the closure of any branch. This is concerning; have justified their closures on the increasing use of online banking, claiming customers do not need as many branches. The Financial Conduct Authority has held working groups with major banks to determine how they will maintain access to cash for customers. But a decision has not been reached on what this will entail. How businesses that handle cash will deal with this situation seems to have been overlooked. It would seem that the high street bank is very much endangered. Britain has lost 53 percent of its bank branches since 1989, leaving 1,500 communities with no bank, and another 840 with only one bank remaining. More than 600 branch closures have occurred in the last year alone, and the Swiss bank UBS has predicted that the UK is set to lose another 50 percent of its total branch network in the next ten years. Britain’s major banks would have you believe that this is due to a precipitous collapse in demand for bank branches, and the rise of online and mobile channels for people to access their money. Digital services have undeniably changed the way we engage with our bank, but all the available evidence suggests that not only is there clear and consistent demand for branches declared by the British public, but also that this preference is also born out by people’s actual behaviour too. Studying these industry-focused reports is instructive, because they suggest that far from responding to demand pressures, the major UK banks are simply closing branches in poorer areas and opening or retaining them in more affluent areas – often regardless of demand, or of the impact that a branch closure would have on that area or its population. It occurs to me (and your opinion would be welcomed) that where banks are owned by the public (either wholly, majority or partially), those banks have an explicit moral and financial duty to serve the public interest, which includes ensuring continued banking provision for vulnerable and under served communities. In a report published by the independent think tank, the Social Market Foundation, they outline that whilst a substantial number of bank customers are happy to use online and mobile services for routine transactions and simple issues; By contrast, the researchers found an overwhelming preference to use branches for more complex transactions or big financial decisions – a preference that was matched by people’s behaviour. It has also been alleged that the banks manipulate user statistics to make the branches they want to close look far less well used than in fact they are. Other accusations have also been levelled at banks. One campaigner in Wales whose spouse worked in a branch due for closure recounted the story that the branch staff had been instructed not to process cheques that had been handed in, but instead to post them to the next nearest branch for processing there. The next nearest branch, several miles away and in a more prosperous and wealthy area, was cited by the bank as being more busy than the branch due for closure, despite being in a smaller catchment area and featuring fewer facilities than the branch due for closure. In other words, the bank was intentionally and wilfully manipulating the usage figures in order to justify its predetermined decision to close the branch. I am certainly not implying that any of these underhand tactics were used in the closure plans for Lloyds in Upper Belvedere, or Barclays in Erith or Sidcup, as I have absolutely no information about the details, but it would appear that the bigger picture does contain some questionable behaviour at the least. What do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The end video this week is a follow - up to the one from last week; this time transport expert and YouTuber Geoff Marshall visits Abbey Wood Station and tries to work out just how much more quickly journeys on the Elizabeth Line will be when compared with the existing transport infrastructure.