Sunday, December 12, 2021

Christmas Tree Festival.

I took the photos above - click on either for a larger view - yesterday at the Christ Church Erith Christmas Tree Festival, where I was helping. Bearing in mind the current situation with Covid, the number of visitors was considerable, if not quite up to the numbers in the past. The event is always free to visit, although donations are welcomed - they go towards maintaining the church, and also to help fund Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice. Locally, the festival signals the full arrival of the Christmas period; in previous years there have been visitors from as far away as Milton Keynes. 

Last week I received the following message from a reader who chooses to remain anonymous. The person writes:- "I don't know if you've noticed or covered it at any point in the past in your previous entries. But I've noticed lately a big deterioration in the radio signal down at my end of Erith. The traditional analogue signal, not digital. I don't know if it applies to other stations, I always listen to Radio 4 in my car which is a strong signal everywhere, but it is atrocious down here and it wasn't like this previous to say 6 months ago. It sounds like it's being jammed by a transmitter somewhere, just white noise. I would say the stretch from lower Belvedere, starting at say Battle Road, coming along lower Rd, then West Street, into Erith centre one way system back round to the fish roundabout and up to around Mcdonalds, and then it clears up completely. 5G maybe? surely they aren't allowed to infiltrate normal frequencies. Anyway, myself and a colleague were mentioning it and I thought of you with your background, you might know of something". I wrote back to the person, saying that typically, analogue VHF FM signals become more noisy (hissy) as the received field strength of the broadcast signal decreases. I am pretty certain that 5G phone and data signals are not connected with the issue that the reader reports. 5G uses frequencies between 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz for data transmission, and 5G voice calls are actually transmitted using 4G connectivity on around 800 MHz. All this is far above the 92 - 95 MHz VHF FM used for BBC Radio 4 FM in England. I am asking the question of readers - have you experienced problems with radio reception in Lower Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green? Broadcasting regulator Ofcom provides an investigation and remediation service to UK residents who experience problems with radio and television broadcast reception. You can click here to be taken to the Ofcom complaints page on their website. If you have had any experience with either a poor radio or TV reception, or interference with the signal in the local area, then please do let me know. As always, you can Email me at

Apple stores are amazingly open, inviting, and easy to use. You can walk in at any time and start trying things out, without having to ask a surly store clerk to take the sole demo unit out of the locked display case. But the same open-plan can also be viewed as a minimum-security venue with high-value, easily-grabbable goods just laid out there on tables, ready to snatch and run. The catch is, most of those devices will be useless if stolen. Apple leaves their expensive gear out because the margin of possibility that someone will successfully steal it is so slim. The security measures set in place are so strong, and several of those measures are very visible (security guards, security cameras, and a consistently large number of employees working) Apple Stores are a very different experience than most other retail spaces. They don't feel like high-pressure sales machines. Quite the opposite, in fact. The vibe is more like a coffee bar or a social space. Large tables are laden with the latest gadgets, and you can check them out for as long as you like, with no uninvited sales pitches. Most stores don't even have a checkout section, and yet Apple Stores make more money per square foot than any other retailer in the world. At a may other technology store, customers can't touch the display models, they'll be behind glass or inside a locked case. Also those stores rarely have more than ten demo units on hand at any given time. This environment is a clear temptation to opportunistic thieves or planned heists. After-hours heists that target the back-office storerooms are usually more worthwhile. But stealing those demo units is a total waste of time, thanks to Apple's neat security protections. It boils down to this: If you remove a demo unit from the store, it notices, and stops working. You may have noticed that the iPhones, iPads, and Macs in the Apple Store aren’t the same as the ones customers own. For example, you cannot set a passcode on the iPhones and lock them. If you reboot an in-store Mac, it resets itself to the original demo-unit state. This lets you try out any of the features without the staff having to reset all those machines every night. Since at least 2016, Apple has also included special anti-theft features in these custom operating-system builds. One of these detects when the device has been removed from the store and is no longer connected to the store’s Wi-Fi network. In this case, the phone switches into a lost mode and stops working. If a demonstration iPhone is stolen from an Apple store, the phone will do nothing but display a message telling the user to return it to its store. It also informs the thief that the phone is being tracked. And just like the iPhone you might own, these units are activation-locked, which means that they cannot be unlocked, wiped, or otherwise reset. For a deterrent to work, potential ne'er-do-wells need to know about it. So why doesn't Apple make it more widely known? One might counter that it's already widely known enough. While the odd Apple Store rip-off makes the news, it doesn't seem to happen very often, so maybe the message has already got through to the right people. The other part of this is keeping the Apple Stores' relaxed atmosphere. If you start putting up signs informing visitors about anti-theft measures, it'll harsh their mellow. There's a reason the hi-def security cameras are hidden so well they're hard to spot in the store. The whole setup is typical Apple: Everything looks low-key and easy, but every part of the experience is planned and thought through.

You may not be aware of this announcement, published last Thursday by Transport for London (TfL):- "From Monday 13 December 2021 you are no longer allowed to carry e-scooters or e-unicycles on TfL services or in our stations or other premises on our transport network, even when folded. This safety step comes after defective lithium-ion batteries in privately-owned e-scooters and e-unicycles caused fires on our network. You risk a fine of up to £1,000 if you don't comply. E-scooters hired under our rental e-scooters trial have always been banned from TfL services because they cannot be folded. You can still carry - but not ride - non-motorised scooters on our services". The reason for the ban, which includes railway, tube and bus stations, as well as all TfL managed vehicles is for safety reasons, after a spate of e-scooter battery fires. The ban will apply to privately owned e-scooters and e-unicycles even when folded or carried, after a number of incidents when the electric vehicles have combusted. Lilli Matson, TfL’s chief safety officer, said in an interview in The Guardian:- “Our primary concern is always for the safety of our customers and staff. We have been extremely worried by the recent incidents on our public transport services, which involved intense fires and considerable smoke and damage.We have worked with London fire brigade to determine how we should deal with these devices and, following that review, we have decided to ban them.”Transport for London and fire services said such incidents, when defective lithium-ion batteries ruptured and caught fire, could lead to significant harm to life and premises, not least with toxic smoke being emitted, potentially in confined spaces. 

I have frequently bemoaned social networks like Facebook, and how some people seem to publish all sorts of intimate and what one would have thought were private details about themselves. If that were not bad enough, the professional social networking site LinkedIn is now the target for organised cyber criminals. LinkedIn, which has over 774 million users globally, is a prime target for scammers looking to connect with professionals across a variety of industries, including information security and oil and gas. Scammers copy information from real LinkedIn profiles to pose as recruiters and attract new connections. Security analyst Symantec have been investigating the situation. They found that most of these fake accounts followed a specific pattern. They bill themselves as recruiters for fake firms or are supposedly self-employed and primarily use photos of women pulled from stock image sites or of real professionals. The primary goal of these fake LinkedIn accounts is to map out the networks of business professionals.  Using these fake LinkedIn accounts, scammers are able to establish a sense of credibility among professionals in order to initiate further connections. In addition to mapping connections, scammers can also scrape contact information from their connections, including personal and professional email addresses as well as phone numbers. Symantec said LinkedIn users should be very sceptical of who they add to their network.  “If you’ve never met the person before, don’t just add them. We weren’t surprised to learn that these fake LinkedIn accounts received endorsements from real users”. I would add to this by recommending that if you are a LinkedIn user, and you receive a request from someone that you don’t know, do a Google search on the person to see what you can find out about them – and if they actually exist at all. As always, be careful; once something is online about you, it is impossible to remove it. Publishing anything online is very much a one – way process.

The images above - click on either for a larger version - come from an early 1970's trade catalogue from Erith based manufacturer Burndept Electronics. Amongst other things, Burndept made two way radio equipment for the emergency services and the government, along with aircraft radios and emergency location beacons. The radio in the image above is a 500 mW UHF transceiver used by many Police forces in the 70's and 80's. Burndept Electronics began life in the early 1920s as a wireless and speaker manufacturer based in Blackheath. In 1934 the company was bought out and amalgamated with Vidor, a maker of batteries, and a brand that survived well into the 1970s. Vidor batteries were cheaper than Ever Ready or Duracell, and very popular, if not so long lasting. The brand Vidor was based in Erith, and they produced a range of consumer electronics in the years after the war; their battery production facilities were located in South Shields and Dundee, whilst their television and radio factory was in St Fidelis Road, off West Street, Erith. In 1934 T. N. Cole, managing director of the Lissen battery company, left that company sometime after it had been taken over by Ever-Ready; he purchased the Burndept radio company and set up the Vidor battery company, in direct competition with Lissen/Ever-Ready. Vidor's name came from the initials of Thomas's two daughters, Valerie and Denise, and his wife Rebecca. As a concession to Ever Ready and his agreement with the company, he did not run Burndept and Vidor himself, but employed Mr. R.P. Richardson as Managing Director. In 1935 Thomas brought an action appealing against the agreement with Ever Ready. An out of court settlement was made and from that time on, relations between Ever Ready and Vidor were strained, not helped by popularity of Vidor batteries with radio dealers because of their competitive prices, which were around twenty five percent cheaper than their rivals. Fellow company Burndept Electronics appears to have been absorbed into several others in the late 60's / early 70's, and the battery making part of the business was sold to an Argentinian company, who as far as I can ascertain, still own the brand. 

I need to ask readers for some information; I took the photo above in the middle of October. It shows the illegal recreational vehicle that had been parked for over six months in Fraser Road, opposite the Erith Wickes DIY store. As regular readers will be aware, the Police and DVLA had been involved, and the DVLA had clamped the front offside wheel of the vehicle, and also affixed a number of tickets to the smashed front windscreen of the shabby and unroadworthy vehicle. Following this, the owner of the illegal vehicle moved it across the road - after having criminally removed the DVLA clamp, along with the vehicle registration plates, in a vain attempt to disguise its identity - and then moved it into the far corner of the car park opposite Wickes. It stayed there until around ten days ago, when it disappeared. Does anyone know what has happened to the vehicle?

Did you know that the World Wide Web will be thirty one years old next week? On December 20, 1990, a Fellow at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee, had been noodling around with ideas for getting hypertext documents onto public networks so that researchers around the planet could share information. He called it the World Wide Web, and he was given a NeXT workstation to develop his system. Berners-Lee – now Sir Tim – built a very basic website that had further details about his World Wide Web project plus some software for accessing it. The site is still hosted publicly here. (Although the website was built around Christmas 1990, Sir Tim didn’t hook the server up to a public network until 1991.) To call the website basic is an understatement, but it did spread the word about the WWW's protocols. Crucially, the project's designs were published openly along with the source code for servers and browsers, allowing anyone to set up on the web without having to pay a penny in royalties or licenses. It's probable that this was the biggest boost to mankind's ability to share information since the invention of moveable type. Now there are websites for everything and anything. Sir Tim freely admits that he did not get everything right at the start; Sir Tim was also focused on text; the initial proposal states: "Where facilities already exist, we aim to allow graphics interchange, but in this project, we concentrate on the universal readership for text, rather than on graphics." Marc Andreessen told The Register website that Sir Tim called him while Andreessen was developing the Mosaic web browser, and castigated him for supporting images in the program – saying that adding more than words at this stage was pointless. Security, or rather the lack of it in the original HTTP standard, is another area that Sir Tim admits to getting wrong. Now he'd like to see all web traffic and email encrypted, although he acknowledges that there are times when investigators legitimately need access to encrypted data for criminal prosecutions. Sir Tim has been steering the development of the web since its inception, and has drawn flak from all sides for some of his views. He supports the adding of anti-piracy mechanisms, aka DRM (Digital Rights Management), to the HTML5 web language, saying it is needed for high-value content, and some companies wish he would stop defending net neutrality so vociferously. I actually encountered Sir Tim almost by accident nine years ago. I attended a meeting at The Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace, London. As I came out from the meeting room and headed into the reception area, I noticed a tall figure waiting close to the main entrance; he was wearing a long and rather impressive drover style coat. I recognised him, but could not recall his name. I then realised that there was a life - sized portrait of the same person on the wall, right next to where he was standing in real life. The penny then dropped. I must admit that I was tempted to go up to him and say hello, but fearing I would only make myself look like an idiot, I thought better of it and left the great man alone. 

On Friday I received a press release from a Public Relations company that manage the affairs of Orbit Housing Association. It reads as follows:- "Mince pies and bauble decorating were on offer in Erith this week at an Orbit event aimed at bringing the community together around the site of its new Park East development. As well as the festive activities, Orbit were asking residents what sort community groups they’d like to see on the estate in the future and handing out nature packs. Park East is the latest joint project by Orbit and Wates Residential. It is being developed by the same team responsible for the success of neighbouring Erith Park on the former Larner Road estate in Erith. Both schemes have taken tower block estates and transformed them into attractive new communities with modern, high specification homes set in attractive landscaping. Rosie Ward, Placemaking and Partnership Manager at Orbit, said: “Creating a new community isn’t just about building new homes. Through events such as these, we aim to bring new and existing residents together to help create those new bonds and relationships which help people to feel at home and proud of where they live. We’re looking forward to next year, where we’ve got lots more events like this planned and can meet lots more of our new residents and the wider community.” When complete, Park East will include a total of 320 apartments for sale, shared ownership and rent.  All the homes have a large balcony or terrace and the use of attractive communal gardens. For families, there are the added attractions of the Active Horizons community centre, Jacqueline Gems Childcare nursery and the play and ecology areas of Erith Park. Sales launched on 21 August and both shared ownership and market sale homes are selling well. Prices start at £257,500 for one-bedroom apartments and £297,000 for two-bedrooms. 77 homes are Shared Ownership properties which will be available to purchase via Orbit Homes, whilst a further 64 private sale properties are available to purchase through Wates. Due to ongoing COVID-19 protection measures, please make an appointment to visit the sales centre. Contact Jeanette on 01322 771472 for private sales and Jane on 01322 771474 for shared ownership. For anyone not quite ready to buy, there are also London Living Rent apartments available, where people can rent whilst saving for a deposit. Register your interest for these at Other rented homes will be let to local households nominated by London Borough of Bexley Council through Bexley HomeChoice".

The end video this week is a short piece by the Port of London Authority on plans for the renovation of Erith Causeway - the wooden jetty adjacent to Erith Riverside Gardens - not to be confused with the much larger concrete and steel Erith Pier. Comments and feedback as always to

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