Sunday, November 22, 2015

Potion progress?

As many of you will know, I have been following the situation with the abandoned and increasingly derelict former White Hart / Potion Bar with interest for several years. Various plans and schemes have come and gone, but Maggot Sandwich reader Stephen alerted me to a brand new planning application that has been submitted to Bexley Council by a potential developer. You can read details of the application by clicking here. In essence building owner The Wellington Pub Company are applying to convert the upper floors of the pub into flats, and to restore the former Victorian green glazed salt tiles and acid etched glass frontage with a replica replacement as can be seen in the drawings above. What is rather more surprising is that they also propose constructing some brand new flats overlooking the River Thames in the garden of the former pub. Nowhere in the planning application can I find any mention of what will be happening to the downstairs bar area and kitchen in the former pub. I suppose that any change of use would be subject to an additional planning application separate from this one. The new flats in the pub garden may prove somewhat controversial, and I have to say that at this point I feel that I need far more information about the proposed low - rise block before I can form an informed opinion regarding it. I can see the logic - the developer is going to have to spend a substantial sum of money on restoring and converting the upper floors of the White Hart - and the replacement pub frontage is going to cost a King's ransom to install. The handful of flats upstairs in the main building are not going to generate enough cash to make just that work profitable. Only additional new accommodation in the large former pub garden would seem to guarantee a development scheme that would make enough profit to make it attractive to an investor. We really need more information; I hope that more detail comes to light soon. The Architect's proposed design for the apartment block on the pub garden site can be seen below - click on the picture for a larger view. 

London City Airport has been suffering from a problem that has become a global safety and security concern. Passenger planes taking off and landing at the East London airport are being attacked by idiots with high powered laser pointers, in an attempt to dazzle the pilots. A chap called DCI Mark Eley is in charge of the police unit dealing with the problem. He said in a recent BBC News interview "There's been a growing trend over the last few years and we are working hard to overcome it. We think it's down to the reduction in cost of laser pens and we now have a much better reporting ethos so we know when these strikes are occurring. It's often youths mainly doing it as a prank not realising just how dangerous it is to shine these lights at an aircraft. While it may seem like a bit of a joke at the time, people are being convicted of this offence and the bottom line is this is very dangerous." Back in 2011 the Civil Aviation Authority released an eye test to help pilots decide whether they needed to visit a specialist after such attacks. Green lasers pose the most serious risk because the human eye is so much more sensitive to green light. Typically the American authorities are far more robust when it comes to catching and prosecuting idiots who use laser pointers against aircraft. The FBI recently published figures showing that offenders can be fined up to $250,000 and face up to twenty years in prison for trying to illuminate aircraft and the FBI has offered a $10,000 bounty to anyone who lets them know when a dangerous idiot is on the loose with lasers. Commercial laser pointers are unlikely to permanently blind pilots, but they can - and do - cause temporary flash blindness in the cockpit which could prove fatally distracting during a tricky landing. Despite the warnings and the heavy penalties, it hasn't stopped a small number of people from carrying out the attacks. In fact the numbers are growing. As of October 16th the FAA reports there have been 5,352 cases of laser strikes on aircraft in flight. At that rate, it is only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens. The same thing applies in the UK as far as the potential risk of aircraft attack by laser pointer is concerned. 

My article on Betamax video recorders struck quite a chord with readers last week; I have been contacted by a number of people, and been the subject of an article on the radio station Laser Hot Hits regarding my story of how some models of Betamax video machines are now worth serious money second hand on places like EBay. Several readers have been checking out their basements and loft spaces to see if their old machines are still around and working. I have been asked what models are worth looking out for. I have been talking to a good friend who is a bit of an authority on old video recorders; he says that some models of Betamax can be worth a lot of money to a collector, but others are pretty much worthless - and it is not always the models that were expensive when new that are worth a lot now. Apparently the Sony C7 model (in the photo I used on the blog last week) is very desirable, as it was very well built, reliable, and spares like drive belts are still available nowadays. I may have one in my own loft, or it may be the lesser and not so desirable Sony C5 model - I should really go up and have a check. Below is a short and very informative video which further explains why the technically superior Betamax video format lost out in the market to the cheap and cheerful VHS system.

Earlier this week I was in a meeting with a couple of colleagues when I used the phrase “it goes up to eleven”. My two colleagues, who were in their mid-twenties looked at me blankly, and I then realised that they did not know the cultural reference, which mildly shocked me. I (wrongly) assumed that pretty much everyone would be familiar with it. The phrase was coined in a scene from the 1984 mockumentary/rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap by the character Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest. In the scene, Nigel gives the rockumentary's director, Marty DiBergi, played by Rob Reiner, a tour of his stage equipment. While Nigel is showing Marty his Marshall guitar amplifiers, he points out one in particular whose control knobs all have the highest setting of eleven, unlike standard amplifiers, whose volume settings are typically numbered from 0 to 10, believing that this numbering actually increases the highest volume of the amp ("It's one louder, isn't it"). When Marty asks why the ten setting is not simply set to be louder, Nigel hesitates before responding blankly again, "These go to eleven”. The phrase has entered the English language, and if you use the BBC iPlayer website, the media player volume control goes up to eleven in tribute to the scene from the classic comedy film.

I have whinged at length in the past about the folly that is self-service checkout tills in supermarkets, and how they actually take the customer longer to use than conventionally staffed supermarket checkouts. They are both unreliable compared with staffed tills, and very susceptible to fraud. I also wonder why customers get charged the same for their goods when using the self – service tills as for the ordinary tills, bearing in mind that they do all the work, I would have thought that the prices should be lower for good processed through the self-service tills, but of course this never turns out to be the case. On top of all this, recent research shows that both conventional tills and self-service tills are increasingly becoming exposed to malware. Point of Sale (POS) devices are very vulnerable to two particularly nasty pieces of malicious software. The Cherry Picker and AbaddonPOS malware, exposed in the last week, are the latest evolution in stealthy and capable point of sales credit and debit card plundering. Cherry Picker has been targeting retail businesses since 2011 and now sports new anti-analysis tricks, persistence mechanisms, and better card ripping functionality. the malware is expert at wiping evidence of itself after an attack has occurred, overwriting files multiple times and removing data exfiltration locations. The memory-scraping malware runs on Windows platforms including Windows 7 and the hard-to-kill XP, running remote administration services. It specifically targets retailers in the food industry running any point of sale software. Most of the current malware infections have so far been discovered in the USA and Canada, but it is only a matter of time before they find their way across the pond. More on Windows later - you can see I plan these things.

You may have recently read that before he ended his own life, the late comedian Robin Williams was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition call Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB). Depending on whom you speak to, it is either the second or the third most common form of dementia. Lewy bodies, named after the doctor who first identified them, are tiny deposits of protein in nerve cells. Researchers don't have a full understanding of why Lewy bodies appear in the brain, or exactly how they contribute to dementia. However, their presence is linked to low levels of important chemical messengers (mainly acetylcholine and dopamine) and to a loss of connections between nerve cells. Over time, there is progressive death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue. Lewy bodies are the underlying cause of several progressive diseases affecting the brain and nervous system, notably DLB and Parkinson's disease. Together, these are sometimes called Lewy body disorders. The disease is still very often not caught or misdiagnosed – generally as either being Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. But Dementia with Lewy Bodies is a beast of its own, even if each patient presents its own version of symptoms – Problems with attention and alertness are very common. It is a feature of DLB that these problems vary widely over the course of the day, by the hour or even a few minutes. There may also be difficulties with judging distances and perceiving objects in three dimensions, and with planning and organising. Some also experience depression. Day-to-day memory is often affected in people with DLB, but typically less in the early stages than in early Alzheimer's Disease. Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not there) occur in most people with DLB, and can be distressing. These are often of people or animals, and are experienced as detailed and convincing. Auditory hallucinations (hearing sounds that are not real, such as knocking or footsteps) can happen but are less common. Hallucinations and visual difficulties partly explain why many people with DLB have delusions (thinking things that are not true). Someone may believe they are being persecuted, that there are strangers living in the house, or that a spouse has been replaced by an identical imposter. Relatives and carers may find such delusions very distressing. This was the terrible condition that my late Dad suffered from for nearly ten years. One other symptom that he suffered from the the loss of distinction between being asleep and being awake. He would have a nightmare, wake up, but he nightmare would carry on - in his mind it was happening for real; this was extremely disturbing for him, and very upsetting for us. At present, there is no cure for DLB. However, with support it is possible to live well with DLB, and management of the condition aims to maximise the person's overall quality of life. Given the range of symptoms, input from a variety of professionals is needed at different times. When caring for someone with DLB, it is important to be as flexible as possible, bearing in mind that many of the symptoms will fluctuate. Treatment of DLB with drugs is often problematic: everyone responds differently, there is only limited evidence about what works, and there are few approved treatments. Also, medication given to improve mental abilities or hallucinations can make movement problems worse. Similarly, drugs for movement problems may have a negative effect on mental abilities or make hallucinations worse. It is likely to be a long time before any kind of preventive treatment, let alone a cure is found. 

A reader sent me the period photo above, which looks like it was taken in the late 1970's or thereabouts. It shows Station Parade - the row of shops which used to exist in Bexley Road, opposite Christ Church Erith. The shops were demolished to allow the construction of Bronze Age Way, the dual carriageway that leads to Lower Belvedere, Thamesmead and Woolwich. I dimly recall the parade - there was a newsagent, an off - licence (which had a reputation for serving under - age customers), an estate agent and a "greasy spoon" cafe, which was run by a rather dodgy bloke who was the uncle of someone I went to school with. My schoolmate would sometimes visit the cafe at lunchtime to get a free fry - up, but I seem to remember he had to go round collecting dirty plates and cups for his uncle afterwards. I never actually went in there myself. So much of old Erith has been destroyed over the years; this is the reason that so many residents, including myself are so keen on preserving the little that is left. 

A local community radio station has submitted an application to OFCOM for a regional commercial radio licence. Miskin Radio, which is based at North West Kent College in Dartford, is a local radio station that has been set up and launched by one of the College’s Media Lecturers, Andrew Sayers. Andrew has been working in radio since he was fourteen years old and is now focusing his passion into providing North West Kent with its own radio broadcast.  Miskin Radio has already made a firm impression since their internet debut in April 2012, with over four thousand listeners. They had a temporary community broadcasting licence back in 2012, in order to provide locally relevant coverage of the Olympic Games. Andrew described the station thus:- “This is a local community radio station for anyone who is interested in radio and the media industry. Our team includes a mixture of radio professionals, volunteers and students from North West Kent College. Our aim is to provide a radio service in the North West Kent area, for local people to get involved with and enjoy.” The OFCOM licence application normally takes around a year to be processed, so if successful, Miskin Radio could well be broadcasting to the local area by Christmas of next year. In the meantime you can listen to them online. You can visit their website here.

Microsoft Windows was thirty years old last week. On November 20, 1985, Microsoft unveiled its graphical operating system; (actually technically speaking it was not an operating system at all - from Windows 1.0 to Windows ME, Windows was actually a graphical interface shell that sat on top of DOS - which was the actual operating system - but I digress). Windows 1.0 offered a new way to navigate a PC, clicking a cursor on various boxes rather than scrolling through lines of text in order to navigate data and applications. While arguably less efficient than a command line, the graphical user interface (GUI) was more intuitive and easier for novice users to manage. Running Windows 1.0 required a PC running DOS 2.0 as well as two double-sided floppy disk drives, 256K of memory, and a new-fangled device known as a "graphics card." Windows worked with some DOS apps, while others would just run in full-screen mode. Windows 1.0 was not exactly a stirring success. PC users accustomed to the command-line interface of DOS weren't yet sold on a GUI, and only about 500,000 copies were sold in the first couple of years. It took until the early 90s for Windows to catch on, but when it did, the OS became synonymous with the PC and made Microsoft one of the most successful and powerful companies in the world for the next two decades. Windows has had its ups and downs - at times it has been an excellent operating system, with other iterations, it has been truly terrible; let's look at some of the bad ones first:- Windows Vista was the long-awaited successor to Windows XP – perhaps that's part of why it is considered such a huge disappointment. After years of speculation and hype, Vista was roundly panned by critics and loathed by consumers. Part of the problem was its hefty hardware requirements that, for many users, meant upgrading components or just buying an entirely new PC. Add to that performance issues and default security settings that would flood users with permission dialogues, and you get one of Microsoft's biggest flops. Windows ME, however, was an even bigger flop than Vista. The final DOS based, consumer-only version of Windows, its mere mention will draw cringes to this day. It was a buggy, sluggish mess of an operating system and is considered by many to be Microsoft's worst-ever Windows version. On top of being riddled with bugs, ME suffered from a rather unfortunate flaw in its system restore process that on some machines meant that when something did go seriously wrong, the OS could not be restored. On a happier note, there have been some excellent and very popular versions of Windows:- Windows 3.11 was credited as the first true "hit" version of Windows and the commercial success that the platform needed to be considered more than just an add-on for DOS. It also carved out a niche for itself in the embedded market that would last for more than two decades. Windows for Workgroups was phenomenally successful as a platform for consoles, point of sale terminals, and workstations. Well into the 2000s, Windows 3.11 could be found in embedded devices. Just a few weeks ago, it was found that Orly Airport in France used Windows 3.11 to power a critical weather prediction system, 23 years after its release and nearly 15 years after Microsoft pulled official support. Windows XP SP2 was the version of XP that Microsoft got right. Three years after XP hit, Microsoft pushed out the second service pack and finally addressed some of the myriad of security problems that plagued XP. Like Windows 3.11, XP SP2 has enjoyed a lifespan so long it has become troublesome. Despite Microsoft's best efforts to get people to upgrade their systems to newer versions, more than one in ten PCs still rely on XP. Windows 7 was another stellar release that came after a less-than-stellar predecessor. In this case, Windows 7 corrected a lot of the things that Vista got wrong, particularly security, performance, and hardware demands. It may also be in for a lengthy run as the Windows release of choice. With Windows 8 bombing and many viewing Windows 10 with skepticism, Microsoft could once again find itself having to continue to support Windows 7 longer than it would want to. Time will tell, as Windows no longer has the complete stranglehold on the computer world that it used to have.

Earlier in the week I received an Email which contained the following appeal to the public:- "I am PC Richard Bradford and I work for the Metropolitan Police Service here on the London Borough of Bexley. Bexley Police, in partnership with Bexley Council, are currently working on an initiative called 'The Commissioner's Christmas Tree Project'. Please see an extract below from the project information:- "A simple idea in the spirit of Christmas. A child in need can be helped by a simple gift from someone they have never met. That person gains no recognition other than knowing they have shown some care for a child that needs a little more love than most." The project began in 2012 with a single tree at New Scotland Yard. It expanded to five boroughs in 2013 and in 2014 the project was run for the first time pan-London, and supplied 6840 presents to looked after children. Every year we aim to increase this amount and maximise the engagement.There are approximately 65,000 children looked after by local authorities in England. At any on time the London Borough of Bexley has in excess of 1200 living in care within Bexley. All Metropolitan Police Boroughs will display a physical tree in their area, ours will be at Bexleyheath Police Station. Each tree will have tags on and the tags explain how to buy a present for a child in care. The gifts are handed in to police stations or other nominated Metropolitan police premises and then later distributed to the children. This project is now being directed at local businesses, churches, schools and residents asking for any kind donations of suitable gifts or store vouchers to pass on to the children in care in Bexley. The project opens on 10th November 2015 and will close on 08th December 2015 in order to get the gifts to the children in time for Christmas. To date ‘ASDA Bexleyheath’ have kindly offered to support us with their own donation point for a gift appeal and have kindly offered us a Christmas tree and support with publicity. ‘Premier Autocentres in Blackfen’ have kindly offered their support for this project by donating funds and are supporting us with the publicity. Prior to the launch date in November we will be liaising with local media asking for their support with publicity and the same on closing the project on 08th December 2015 when the gifts are given to the children and we will be thanking all those businesses for their support. So again I ask with the kindest intent would ‘YOU’ be able to support us with this project and consider making a donation at either or Alternatively you can drop a present off at Bexleyheath Police station or speak to your dedicated ward officer for other arrangements".

As construction work between Abbey Wood and Plumstead continues, news reaches me that the UK’s largest rail project, Crossrail, will feature trains that are fully wheelchair-accessible, air-conditioned and wi-fi enabled. The trains, which are being built by Bombardier Transportation’s UK factory in Derby, will have space for 1,500 customers in nine walk-through carriages. Each will be more than 200 metres long. They will also re-generate electricity back into the network when braking, meaning they will use 30% less energy. The £14.8 billion cross-London project, which includes 26 miles of tunnelling through central London, has been hailed by Prime Minister David Cameron as “an engineering triumph”. The new trains will be in service from May 2017, though testing is scheduled to begin far sooner than that date. I am sure the many local transport enthusiasts will be out in force with their cameras when that day finally arrives.

The ending video this week is a historical gem - it shows life and work on the River Thames from back in 1959; it gives a rare colour glimpse into what was then a rapidly changing environment. One can see all of the old warehouses on the banks of the Thames, shortly before most were demolished to make way for offices - and the few that remained were converted into extremely desirable and expensive apartment buildings today. One can also see The Pool of London, and the old docks still at work. Only a decade or so later and most of this would be gone, as the larger container ships could not get upriver as far as London, and loading and unloading would move to the massively expanded container port at Tilbury.  In the film you can still see goods being unloaded by hand, something that would be completely unthinkable nowadays. It is a fascinating snapshot into a part of London that is no longer there. See what you think, and please either leave a comment below, or drop me a line to

No comments:

Post a Comment