Sunday, April 14, 2013

Potion commotion.

The photo above was taken by me on Wednesday afternoon on Erith Pier. It shows the bulk carrier ship the M.V Willeke moored up as she so often does. The Willeke is one of the most regular visitors to Erith Pier, and normally spends around three days of any seven day week period on the pier. What was quite unusual this time was that she was in cargo. She was loaded with what appeared to be raw talc - as used in talcum powder, or nowadays more likely used as a thickening agent in the production of non - drip paints. Normally when bulk carriers like the Willeke moor alongside the pier it is when they are in ballast and awaiting a cargo. so seeing it loaded was quite a novelty. None of the crew was around, though the ships' generator was on, and people were definitely aboard her. The crew like to visit Morrison's to stock up on provisions prior to their voyages, and it is not uncommon to see one or two of the junior crew members pushing a shopping trolley full of groceries along the pier and onto the ship. I would not be surprised if Morrison's is the only supermarket in the UK where commercial ships can stop off for shopping visits. Let me know what you think - comments are welcomed below.

One of my local informants has recently contacted me with some information to follow up a story I featured six weeks ago on my update entitled "Kebabs and College". I wrote about how B and Q in Lower Belvedere were displaying parking warning notices that were illegal - you can read my post about the subject by clicking here. Anyway, it would appear that the notices have now been removed and replaced with new ones. Whether I, or my contact had any influence over the situation I really cannot say, but the coincidence is noticeable anyway. What my contact also reported upon entering the store was the following, in his words: "I popped into the shop this morning for a small electrical accessory needed in a hurry. Checkouts are now four customer operated terminals and one traditional checkout - which was unstaffed. There was a small queue for the customer operated terminals so even that small advantage (no queue) has gone. B and Q Belvedere deserves to fail". This echoes my own thoughts on self service checkouts to a tee. I simply won't use them anywhere for any reason whatsoever. It has been proved that they are purely there to save the shop money and sod the shopper. As I have said before, why have a dog and bark yourself? The checkouts have been proven to take longer to use than a traditional one; they are purely a tool for reducing staff headcount. This can itself be a false economy, as shop lifting has been shown to increase in stores with self service checkouts. It may seem a good idea to reduce the number of checkout staff, but when the store then has to hire more security staff (who earn a higher hourly rate than the checkout staff) it can actually end up costing more money overall. 

There are echoes today of the controversy that arose some years ago when Erith Sports Centre opened. There was a competition to select a suitable name for the impressive new facility, and several local papers featured the story. The whole thing turned into a bit of a farce when, after much solemn consideration the name selected was, er, Erith Sports Centre. It would have not been so bad had not the national tabloid papers got hold of the story, and much merriment and ridicule was heaped on the choice of name. A similar total lack of imagination has struck the developers who are currently in the process of demolishing the old Larner Road housing estate. The name that has been selected for the new housing development to replace Larner Road is "Erith Park". Ahem. I can fully understand the desire to not tarnish the new development with a name associated with the dubious past of Larner Road, but surely something a bit less anodyne could have been chosen? When you spend the thick end of £100 million on a cutting edge combined commercial and social housing development with the latest energy saving green technology, you would have thought that a more forward thinking and dynamic name could have been selected – something along the lines of “Selkirk Heights” for example. (You may already be aware that Alexander Selkirk – the inspiration for the fictional character of “Robinson Crusoe” landed back in England at Erith after his experiences of being shipwrecked and left to survive for four years alone on a desert island – I would have though this hardy and resourceful individual would have been a great inspiration for local residents). There has been much going on regarding the Larner Road redevelopment over the last couple of weeks; I hope that sooner or later I will be in a position to write about it, as I am sure many readers would find the story of interest, but unfortunately now is not the time.
You may recall that I have mentioned the butchering to the exterior fascia of the former White Hart pub that now houses the seedy and disreputable drug den that is Potion bar. The owners of Potion illegally ripped out the preserved Victorian salt glazed tile and acid etched glass frontage, and replaced it with plate glass, even though it was specifically prohibited from doing so by Bexley Council Planning Department.  Not only is the building listed, but the whole of the Eastern end of Erith High Street is a architectural conservation zone, and no major architectural changes are permitted. The council forced Potion to get an architect to draw up plans to return the appearance of the exterior of the building to something fairly closely resembling its’ original look. Since then precisely nothing has happened, and after some research, I have discovered that the council have now dropped the entire case, probably as the owners of Potion are claiming poverty. It would seem that we will be stuck with the anachronistic and ugly glass frontage for good now. As previously mentioned, one of the down sides of the large plate glass front windows now in place is that they afford a very clear view of the establishment’s regulars inside, and it is not a pretty sight. If you recall the cantina scene in the original “Star Wars”, then this is loosely what you see occupying Potion, though possibly with fewer blasters and a bit more cocaine. I have heard an unconfirmed rumour which I heartily hope is true. One of my confidential sources tells me that Potion may not be around for very much longer. A combination of repeated Police raids due to a combination of public drunkenness and a reputation as the local drugs supermarket may now have take their toll on the unscrupulous owners of the dive. The rumour is that Potion is shortly going to be put up for sale, and that an investor is interested in turning it into an Indian restaurant. So far there is nothing on the Bexley Council planning application website, so I can only take the story with a pinch of salt at this point, but I would not be surprised if there was not at least some truth in the story. For much of the time Potion is largely devoid of the knuckle draggers and coke heads that lurk in the place on Friday and Saturday nights. I doubt it breaks even, let alone make any semblance of a profit for the owners. I think they have caught a cold on this enterprise. Their other Potion Bar is in Fitzrovia, and is a rather different, more up – market affair, which seems to specialise in cocktails – whereas the only likely mix of drinks in the Erith outlet would be  a half of strong cider and a half of noxious and gassy lager to make a snakebite. Hopefully more information will come to light about the precise fate of the unloved by many bar in the very near future.

I am happy to report that Welling born Kate Bush has now been appointed CBE in the last round of honours. Personally I would have like to see Kate given the full Damehood (one grade above a CBE and the equivalent of a Knighthood). She's done so much for the British music industry on both a business and a creative front; she's also inspired many other musicians - I doubt that Tori Amos or Florence and the Machine would have existed in anything like their current form if it was not for our Kate. Very few musicians inspire the level of devoted following that Kate has; the only band that spring to mind who have an equivalent dedicated band of fans who follow them around the world are Marillion, a band that many have not heard about since around 1985, when they were responsible for many parents naming their daughters Kayleigh after the hit song of the same name. Marillion are still going strong, albeit in an unusual, semi underground manner. The band were the very first group in the world to dispense with a record label and publisher, instead doing it all online - they were very early to grasp the power of the web, and the democratising of communications between band and fans. Their revolutionary business model is now taught at Harvard Business School as part of their highly prestigious MBA programme.

Here is the latest "Simon's Cat" video. Whenever a new one is released, they never fail to make me laugh. See what you think below.

Most ordinary, non technical people know about the Windows operating system, and may have seen an Apple iMac or two in their travels, but as far as the third major desktop computer operating system is concerned, most have not heard of it, and probably would not care if they had. Linux has been around for ages - 1991 was the year of its' birth, and I first started dipping my toes in it back in 1997. Back then it was very difficult to use, had little hardware or driver support, and was really only suitable for hardcore tech savvy people like me to use as a desktop operating system for my computer (I dual booted with Windows XP back in 2001). Much has changed over the years; the free and open source nature of Linux means that improvements and updates to the operating system are made collaboratively - a new hardware driver, for example, could just as readily be developed by a blue chip company, or someone sitting in their bedroom. For all that, the updates go through the same high level of peer review and checking, to ensure a consistently high quality level of coding. This is one prime area why open source software tends to have good quality programming code - the code is open to any programmer to see, comment and improve on, unlike in confidential, closed code that makes up Windows and OS X, where you just have to take the creator's word that the code is up to scratch. The end result for years has been curious - Linux is used in huge mainframe and supercomputers almost to the exclusion of other operating systems. it also is used in embedded systems - anything from a Sky+ HD or Virgin Media set top box, through to industrial equipment such as computer controlled machine tools; the internet is powered by Linux - almost every network switch, domain controller and firewall runs it in one form or another, and the very largest web based organisations like Google, FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter all are powered by giant distributed server farms running Linux. On top of this, the recently released Google ChromeBook range of laptops, and the famous educational computer, the Raspberry Pi runs it too. Did you know that the Android operating system, so beloved of many smart phone and tablet computer users, is actually Linux with a whizzy graphical touch screen interface layer grafted on top by Google? I think it fair to say that if you stopped a random ten people in the street and asked them if they had ever heard of Linux maybe one or two might have vaguely come across the name, but I doubt any would realise that they use it every day. Well, after this shameless plug for my favourite operating system, I guess you are wondering where this is all going. Well, after year upon year of Linux being out in the wilderness as far as being a popular desktop / laptop OS is concerned, the tide may be finally changing. High end gaming PC specialists Alienware have released a series of gaming PC's running the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, which is partnered by Valve Softwares' extremely successful Steam online game repository. Not all Windows versions of Steam games have yet been ported to Linux, but more are becoming available, week on week. Bearing in mind that Alienware are actually a hardware division of Dell Computers, and Dell already sell a small number of desktop workstations and specialist laptops running Ubuntu Linux, it is looking quite rosy for the operating system to finally get a foot hold in the living room in something other than the guts of a smart television or HD recorder. Time will tell, but it should be an interesting journey. 

The somewhat controversial Erith wind turbine has now settled down to become merely the latest landmark for the area; Personally I find it a very useful aid in assessing the local weather conditions. It tells you if there is low cloud (the tops of the turbine blades get hidden as they turn), it gives you an idea of the wind speed and direction (the speed of the blade rotation and the direction the turbine head is facing) and it also warns you of poor visibility (when you cannot see it). On top of this, it is a local landmark, which pinpoints the Manor Road Industrial Estate from afar. So all in all it has a multitude of benefits to the area. I wonder if anyone will set up a society for wind turbine enthusiasts? You may well mock, but there is an active and enthusiastic group of people who enjoy spotting electricity pylons – they have even published pylon spotting guide books! You can read more about pylon spotting and how to become a pylon spotter by clicking here.

Science fiction death rays have been promised in a real world environment by researchers and military suppliers since at least the mid 1960’s. Until now they have never got beyond the testing stage, mainly mounted on experimental aircraft. It has been the generally accepted wisdom that a military laser does not actually have to work; they have been so big and heavy that all you needed to do was drop the thing on the enemy to effectively wipe them out. This is all about to change. The U.S Navy now has a weaponised laser capable of destroying an enemy aircraft or fast attack boat (the kind of vessel used by Al Qaeda to attack NATO ships in the past). The laser system, which will be experimentally deployed on U.S ship, the unfortunately named U.S.S Ponce, will be used to test the defensive system in the field – in this case, in the seas around the Middle East; it would be likely that its’ main area of operation will be the Persian Gulf – where Iran operates small surveillance drones, and is also known for swarming and harassing U.S Navy warships with small and very mobile high speed gunboats. The laser, which is solid state, is said to work like an invisible blowtorch on targets; the $35 million development budget (actually tiny in defence procurement terms) will be offset by the $1 per shot cost of powering the system. A video released by the Navy shows the laser lock onto a slow-moving target, in this case an unmanned drone, which bursts aflame in mid-flight. The drone soon catches fire and crashes into the sea below. Laser weapons do have drawbacks – they are badly affected by rain, fog and sea spray, which drastically reduce the transmitted power of the laser beam, and the laser installed on the USS Ponce will not be able to target fast moving objects like fighter jets or incoming anti ship missiles, but the rumours are that version with this extended capability are only a few more months away. It will be interesting to see if Iran’s small fast-boat navy experience some unexpected fires when shadowing the American fleet. We are heading for interesting times.

Although I am not very active on the bands, I have been a radio amateur since 1997, and hold an advanced class radio licence. On the 18th April, World Amateur Radio Day celebrates the forming of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) on 18th April 1925. This year the theme is "Entering its Second Century of Disaster Communications". This commemorates the first known use of amateur radio in a disaster situation when, in March 1913, the Scioto River in Columbus, Ohio flooded its banks, killing more than 100 people. According to local newspapers, Herbert Akerberg, a 15-year-old from Hilltop, Ohio used his home radio transmitter to send SOS calls via Morse code for nearly 72 hours. His actions were highly commended by the city authorities and his achievement widely heralded over the country as a new contribution to the comparatively new science of radio.

The video this week is from an American TV show that has not been transmitted in the UK - yet. It is called Food Tech, and is all about the science and engineering that goes into producing some commonly eaten food products. The episode features the humble cheeseburger and chips - the staple of so many fast food joints. Before you dismiss this as a programme about junk food, it is actually far more than that. It explains the production of each ingredient, even going back to showing how the seeds that are used to grow the onions in the burger garnish are grown, separated and refined before being sold to the farmer to grow the actual onion for consumption. It explains why processed rather than "real" cheese is used, and how the fries are produced so that they are uniform in size, and how iceberg lettuce goes from the field to the restaurant table in less than 48 hours. The amount of engineering skill and management organisation that goes into many of these systems and processes was a real eye opener to me, and it certainly made for very informative viewing, whatever you think of the end product food itself.  Do give it a watch and let me know what you think.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Talking of B&Q I'm surprised your not doing more on the fact the monster Wal-Mart Asda is coming soon. It's going to have a massive effect of traffic and the local shops.

    Kate Bush...Mmmm!
    I have to admit to being a rabid Kate fan although not that keen on her later stuff (I still haven't managed to get through 50 Words For Snow) but been a fan for 25 years. Good on her!

    I think your a little hard on Potion although I've not drunk in there.
    It seems like it wants to be an "exciting clubbable trendy bar" but because of the location (ie:"Eariff") and the fact there's no other "trendy" bar till you hit Bexleyheath or Dartford it's out on a limb. Seems its actually a workingman's pub which is rare these days. I've heard rumors of rampant dealing general unsavoryness but as it looks far too grim for me I've never bothered going in there.

    Funnily enough I've just bought a couple of high-ish powered laser pointers.
    One is green and meant for pointing out stars and constellations as the length of the beam shows up in relatively low light. In full darkness I can't help waving it around whilst making "WhUUUuum! WhUUUuuum" lightsaber noises.I'm in the process of finding out how to soup it up so it'll burst balloons and burn paper.
    I'm over 40...but I still want to jump on the metaphysical bouncy castle!