Pick of the E&T in box
What makes an engineer?
Hardly an issue of E&T goes by without letters complaining about the lack of recognition for engineers. They do not reflect well on our profession. I could barely believe my eyes when I read Dr CL Murray’s letter (September 2011) bemoaning the inclusion of Sir James Dyson in a list of successful engineers. He acknowledges him as an inventor, “albeit using established principles and adapting them”. Isn’t that what engineers do? We all work to apply principles we haven’t established ourselves; pick any one of the laws of physics, for example. To disregard Sir James Dyson as an engineer because he doesn’t have any letters after his name is ridiculous.
Engineering is only one of a great number of occupations that bring benefits to society. We’re never quite as quick to acknowledge that engineers are also responsible for some terribly destructive developments.
Might there be an element of elitism about Dr Murray’s attitude? James Dyson seems to be an instinctive engineer, and has been very successful at it. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then he has a lot of flatterers in most of the vacuum cleaner makers. He runs a good operation. After-sales service for his products is excellent, which is not always the case.
Michael Cox FIET
Given the amount of positive exposure Sir James Dyson has gained in the media for the manufacturing sector, I frankly care not what the public or any organisation seek to call him. The award is well-deserved.
We need people like Sir James to compete for attention in the media with the likes of the CEOs of Virgin, Google and banks. There is no one else I can think of, currently, who the public can readily name as head of a major technical production and R&D company. I hope most of us would recognise what he is trying to do and not put him down.
I would also like to think that he has not got where he is by worrying what he is known as - maybe we should take heed.
Mark Ward CEng MIET
Smart meter sceptics
Jenny Driscoll’s Comment column (September) is a clear warning of the dangers of smart meters. Unlike her, I do not see benefits for the customer. The £11bn cost will be passed on to the customer so it is not a benefit. The suppliers will save in meter reading so profits will go up at the cost of the livelihoods of the current staff of meter readers. Does anyone believe that tariffs will be reduced? Are the majority of customers able to reduce their consumption just because they can measure it? Existing meters can be used to monitor usage. Many are hard up and use as little power as possible now.
The dangers of cross-selling are not the only risks. I have read about the possibility of ‘man in the middle’ interception of the signals, so what will be the security measures? The police are vetted yet some have been convicted of supplying information from the National Computer System to outsiders. Employees of the suppliers are not secure so they could monitor readings to find houses which are using little power and be fairly sure they are empty. Ideal for burglars.
These meters will give suppliers the ideal tool for differential tariffs, so that the price will fluctuate depending on demand. Given the behaviour of the suppliers to date it seems a great opportunity to confuse the user and get yet more profit.
Alfred Reading MIET
West Molesey, Surrey
I wonder if anyone can tell me exactly what ‘smart’ meters will do? My meter, which I’ve had for many, many years, supplies my energy at four different rates, at different times of day. One is the off-peak rate, 4.95p per KWh, and goes to dedicated circuits for space and water heating. System control switches it on and off by radio for a guaranteed number of hours within a wider time slot.
Surely that’s all a ‘smart’ meter can do - switch on and off? It saves no energy, because it takes the same to cook a chicken, or do the washing, at 5pm or 2am. What apparatus other than heat storage would be connected?
To put it another way, what apparatus of yours would you be willing to have switched off by a remote control room? To reduce the peak power demand, it would have to be between say 16:00 and 19:00 in winter, and it would need to be something you normally used at such times.
Sean Davies quotes Professor Patrick Lin of California State University as saying that autonomous weapons systems (AWS) don’t need a human’s staying hand in the loop in a “desperate situation” like patrolling Israel’s or South Korea’s borders (‘Just War’, September 2011). So anyone that moves across the border can legitimately be killed without checking.
Since the situation in Palestine is undoubtedly more ‘desperate’ than in Israel, presumably it is OK for the Palestinians to use AWSs to kill people crossing the border. And is the border the internationally agreed border or the Israeli determined one? Whatever views may be held on the rights and wrongs of that conflict, it scares me that a professor of ethics can apparently endorse arbitrary killings of men, women or children on such a pretext.
It is high time the Geneva Conventions were updated to put beyond doubt the unlawfulness of such suggestions, and our Institution, which has members involved in the AWS industry, should be actively encouraging that.
Chris Beney CEng MIET
The recent debate about fusion options has focused on cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy production, but there is a broader debate that needs consideration about how such energy is used to ensure sustainability of the planet.
History shows that humans consume what is available to satisfy their short-term needs, often to the detriment of long-term needs. If nuclear fusion leads to cheap and readily available energy, the risk is we use that energy to increase our physical consumption. How will we learn to consume responsibly?
Barry Faith FIET
Your description of the way the bouncing bomb worked (‘One2Ten’, September 2011) is slightly inaccurate. Barnes Wallis knew that exploding a bomb against the parapet of the dams would have little or no effect. The bomb was therefore designed to skim over the surface of the water and lose most of its forward motion by the time it arrived at the parapet. It would then sink, and at a pre-determined depth detonate thereby using the force of the water held back by the dam to cause the desired effect.
EurIng B Bowbrick CEng MIET
Your Classic Project article on the building of the Panama Canal (September 2011) omits the one vital piece of engineering that enabled the Americans to succeed where the French failed. The Americans reduced malaria to manageable proportions with the aid of clever devices which spread oil steadily on stagnant water, thus depriving the mosquitoes of breeding sites.
John R Batts
In your article about the power crisis in Cyprus (September 2011) you state that the explosion at the military base was caused by the decomposition of gunpowder. If it really was gunpowder then the munitions in question would have been over 100 years old! I think you mean ‘smokeless powder’.
Mike Dunstan CEng MIET
Readers who found that the final page of ‘Just War’ in the September issue of E&T was affected by a printing error can find the complete version of the article in the ‘Past Issues’ section of www.eandtmagazine.com, under the magazine tab.