Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Poisoned Chopstick.

The photo above was taken from the bridge over the railway in Bexley Road, Erith. It shows the railway tracks leading westwards towards Erith station. The bridge was due to be widened; as it currently only allows one lane of traffic to pass in each direction; this bottle neck from the surrounding dual carriageways causes major traffic congestion problems at peak times. Planning permission for the widening work was submitted nearly two years ago, but no work has since been carried out. I get the feeling that the work is on indefinite hold until the economy starts to recover.

I was channel hopping around on my Sky+ HD box last weekend; I have been getting increasingly frustrated with the high level of data compression that Sky are employing, even on the premium movie channels you notice motion blur and colour bleed; I have seen a couple of online forums where viewers have been blaming their televisions. Unless you have a very old plasma TV, this is unlikely to be the case – modern LED screens are pretty much immune to these visual shortcomings, and other television technology has also improved greatly. One test to prove to oneself that it is the compression, rather than the television that is at fault is to tune to Eurosport – which is free to air, and one of the few broadcasters who transmit in full 1080i high definition, with no compression. The quality of their images is stunning. I was carrying out this very test when I stumbled across live Snooker. I recall back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as colour TV became more popular, that television repair shops, which appeared on pretty much every high street, would tune their charges to either the test card, or to snooker for preference. I guess that snooker was a good test of colour, focus and movement – either that or all TV repair men were snooker demons. Back in the late 70’s my parents still had a black and white TV – the cost of a colour set as a percentage of the average weekly wage was far higher than nowadays – one of the principal reasons so many people rented their televisions back then; also, being rental meant that you got maintenance and repair “free” as part of the package (TV’s then were notoriously unreliable, as they still employed valves in the amplifier stage). Rental customers were also offered periodic upgrades, in a similar fashion to mobile telephones today. It has been mooted that the huge popularity of Snooker, with programmes like “Pot Black” getting audiences in the tens of millions, were directly as a result of the spread of colour television. Pot Black commentator Ted Lowe once legendarily said “and for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green”. My dad used to take my little sister and I to visit our two Great Uncles, who lived in a large and ramshackle house, just off the Lee High Road. Great Uncle Horace had been a senior Post Office telephone engineer before his retirement; he was a superb electrical and mechanical engineer who was fascinated with technology. His wartime service was very murky – we know very little of his history. He was excused military service and was graded as having a reserved occupation. The family understand he served at the Post Office research centre in Dollis Hill. Very unusually he was excused Home Guard or other Auxiliary service like fire watching. I have my suspicions – he was an expert in electronic telephone exchanges, which were just coming into service before the outbreak of war, and we know that post war, his boss was Doctor Tommy Flowers. If you know anything about the history of computing, you are probably doing what I have done and putting two and two together. So little documentation survives that I doubt we will ever know for certain what Uncle Horace actually did during the war, but I feel it is quite likely he was involved with the construction of Colossus – the first stored program digital computer, which was used to break the encryption keys for the Lorenz cipher machine employed by the Nazi high command. Horace never talked, as people of his generation and background were incredibly circumspect about secret wartime activities. Anything he knew, he took to the grave. I digress; Horace was of comfortable means, and he ensured that he and his brother had the best of any new technology, including an early Sony Trinitron colour television, which cost nearly a thousand pounds in the late 1970’s, but at the time was the best television available by quite a large margin. Dad would take us to visit on a Friday evening, and we would sit in the back room with the TV perched on the dinner table and watch “Pot Black” in colour. Whilst nobody could ever accuse me of being a sporty person, as a youngster I did like Judo, Dinghy sailing and fencing and snooker, none of which I was very good at. I note that all the sports that I had an interest in were one on one or solo activities – I really detested team sports like football and rugby, mainly as 1) I was very bad at them, and 2) I never could work out who was meant to be doing what. I digress; Back when I watched snooker on Uncle Horace’s colour telly, it was a game played quite differently to today. Players chased around the table, potting balls at every opportunity – it was like a race to the finish. When I watched the snooker coverage last weekend, it was like a completely different game. The players spent more time trying to confound their opponent by clever ball placing, and employing far more strategy to snooker their adversary. The game seems to have become far more cerebral and strategic, and by extension a much better watch. Snooker does not have anything like the public exposure it did thirty or so years ago; it used to be show on prime time BBC2, and the finals shown on BBC1. Now it is hidden away on a relatively obscure satellite channel. I wonder whether the improvement in the spectator experience will eventually translate into higher viewing figures and a return to the mainstream? Your thoughts are welcomed below.

I received an update from one of my Chinese readers – the person who alerted me to the fact that the Maggot Sandwich is being blocked by The Great Firewall of China. He tells me that the block continues, and warns me of being careful when walking across London Bridge, as I could get jabbed in the leg by a poisoned chopstick a la Georgi Markov! Seriously, I have written to Liu Xiaoming, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the United Kingdom to ask him why the Maggot Sandwich is being censored. I can think of no rational justification for blocking it in the World’s most populous country. Google Analytics (which I use to monitor blog statistics) tells me that I have only had a handful of hits from China ever, and the country does not even come into the top ten places where the blog is read. To be honest, until I was told of the block, I was not even aware of having any Chinese readers at all! It is so perplexing. Hopefully I will have a better understanding of the situation when / if I get a reply from the embassy. *Update* - my Chinese source has travelled to Hong Kong since his original message to me, and he says that the Maggot Sandwich is fully readable on the island. He reports that the inhabitants of Hong Kong, though nominally Chinese nationals, have a very strong independent identity, and that it would appear that web censoring in Hong Kong is far less rigorous than on the mainland. Our covert messaging system of using encrypted fortune cookies appears to be working well....

Still, having ticked off the World’s second largest power, I could stop, or I could dig myself even deeper. I think most regular readers will know which way this is going. There have been some interesting comments over the last couple of weeks regarding the nomenclature of Nuxley Road (see the period photo above) in Upper Belvedere (by the way, Belvedere means “beautiful view” in Italian), which some people misguidedly refer to as “Nuxley Village”. The origin of the names of the  places in the local area, and some of the surrounding landmarks dates back to the early fifteenth century, and the name Belvedere even earlier. The area of Bedonwell gets its name from the Bedon stream, which runs through what is now known as Streamway; the Bedon is a minor tributary of the River Thames, which is now run though an underground drain for much of its length. A fifteenth century form of the name was Beton Well, meaning “praying well”. The exact origin is lost in the mists of time, though the old English word “bydan” meaning a shallow valley may have something to do with it. On the South side of the stream was a further area of open heath land, called Nuxley or Little Heath, which occupied an area around what was later Belmont Primary School (and is now a Doctor’s surgery and private flats). The name Nuxley was sometimes spelled Naxley, which in turn is a corruption of Knocksley, meaning a small hill. Nuxley Road was originally named Bexley Road, until March 1939 when it was renamed as Nuxley Road, which it remains to date. There is no record of Upper Belvedere ever having been named Nuxley Village, and parish records for the area date back to 1235 AD, and survived the reformation, when ownership of the parish was transferred from Lesnes Abbey to the owners of Parsonage Farm (on what is now Parsonage Manor Way). During the late 19th century, Parsonage Farm was owned by the Vinson family, who were at the time rich and powerful enough to issue their own trade tokens (a kind of informal local currency). There are records that beer houses such as the Fox, and full pubs such as the Eardley Arms took trade tokens for payment for food and drink until sometime around 1900. The farm buildings, which were  constructed in the Middle Ages (principally to provide food and drink for Abbot and Monks at Lesnes Abbey) lasted until the end of WWII, when it was used to house an auxiliary fire station. After the war the building was so derelict it was demolished. Thus, the name “Nuxley Village” is a construct – a fictional creation of local estate agents who have no knowledge of the history of the area. Upper Belvedere has been so called for at least the last 777 years, and the thoughtless action of a handful of ignorant house peddlers is not going to change facts any time soon.

Erith is a desert when it comes to decent pubs. If you want a pint of well served real ale, you need to travel to Upper Belvedere, Bexleyheath or Crayford. News reaches me that Kent brewers and pub owners Shepherd Neame have just spent a fortune refurbishing The Crayford Arms, in er, Crayford. It reopened a few weeks ago after the building and redecoration work was completed. I must admit I visited the pub a couple of years back, and was not that impressed - the place was scruffy and tired, though the beers were well kept. It will be interesting to revisit the hostelry and see what changes have been made; it is under new management, and things bode well. The Crayford Arms is keen to promote local music, and has a special interest in the folk scene - they have their own in-house folk club called the Crayford Arms Folk Emporium, which meet every Thursday evening. I will come back to write a review of the place once I have had a chance to try its' post refit charms, probably shortly after Christmas.

The News Shopper have published  a further feature on the Arabfly Dangleway; they have upped the ante, and are now publicly calling the cable car a “white elephant”. Whilst I would not go that far, it is clear that something pretty drastic needs to be done before the reputation of both the cable car, its sponsors and operators become irreparably damaged.

You may recall that a few weeks’ ago I wrote a piece about Search Engine Poisoning, and how search engines could be corrupted to misdirect users’ search requests to dodgy payday loan sites and the like.. Well, as a follow up I thought it might be prudent to warn readers of another form of malicious activity that is starting to affect innocent victims. The data stored in personal online profiles for websites such as Google, Twitter and Facebook is starting to become the target for hackers. Currently websites such as Yahoo! and EBay analyse your viewing history and “tune” what information is presented to you, based on your web viewing habits and search history – for example, I am interested in old shortwave radios; when I visit the EBay home page, the latest adverts for old radio gear are there for me to see, all based on my search history. The worrying this is that a number of IT security professionals are concerned that malicious attackers could “pollute” a users’ search profile to redirect their searches to other sites at will. The same techniques can be used to artificially inflate the number of “likes” to a message to make it appear more trendy and popular than it really was. In a conventional attack on a users’ computer, the user can run anti malware software to remove the threat, or indeed log on from another location from a different machine, which completely neutralises the attack. With profile poisoning, the victim gets the malicious search results wherever they log in from. Aside from web profile manipulation, the biggest current online security vulnerabilities are thought to be in mobile operating systems / browsers such as Android and iOS, as hackers are targeting the areas that are exhibiting the strongest growth – which currently is in web browsing from smart mobile devices. At present, mobile handset manufacturers only rarely issue operating system updates and security patches, which potentially leaves users exposed to attacks. It is predicted that 2013 will herald an explosion in handset malware and security exploits.

If you are reading this update shortly after it was posted on Sunday afternoon, something will be happening in the Canary Wharf office building which I spend much of my work time in. The top floor fine dining restaurant is being used as the location for the grand final of MasterChef 2013. The television production company who make the show on behalf of the BBC scouted out the office a couple of months ago, and have visited on a number of occasions. Filming started at 8am this morning, and they are due to wrap at 10pm tonight. I don't know the precise transmission dates, but I believe the final will be on your screen some time next March. Look out for it.

Whilst the replacement for "The Beast" - my dead Apple iMac desktop main computer has been delayed until some time in late January, the replacement for my Acer Aspire One netbook is much closer to hand. The Acer runs Mint Linux, and has been a solid and reliable backup computer, if very slow. I have been using it as my main machine for a number of weeks now, and this has really shown up its' shortcomings. Instead I should be taking delivery of a brand new Samsung Chrome Book on Monday. What is a Chrome Book? well, it is a web enabled laptop that has been optimised for the always on cloud. It runs a cut down and specialist version of Linux that is very similar to the Android operating system as used on smart phones and tablets. It is fast, clean and very powerful. Watch the video clip below for more information about Chrome Books. I hope to have some photos of the device itself next week.


  1. Ok, I give in, there is no such place as Nuxley Village, but I and many others will continue to use the term.


    2. Actually that is not true, The name Nuxley Road did not get used until 1939; prior to this the road was called Bexley Road. By your arguments it should be called Bexley Village then? Oh - and your caps lock was on. Bad form - it makes it look like you are shouting, when I am sure you did not intend this.