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APPROACH THE CLOUD WITH CAUTION
‘Space race’ (E&T, March 2013) fails to mention a huge issue with cloud storage. Under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, quietly introduced in 2008 under George Bush and renewed and amended in December 2012 under Barack Obama, US government agencies can freely access, with no warrant required, information stored by non-US companies or individuals on services run by US companies. In other words, the US has been able to mine data stored by non-US citizens on US clouds since 2008, and can continue to do so.
I would love to know if the data about all of us being cloud stored by UK government (see ‘Gathering clouds’, also in the March 2013 issue) comes into this category. Meanwhile, the message is that if you want to use cloud storage, choose carefully who you use.
David Watson CEng MIET
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
During my morning commute by train, I was happily enjoying the January 2013 issue of E&T, reading about the digital age, communications, and information tech. Then I came across the story on risk-assessment, illustrated by a photo of a flooded British street.
Wondering whether this was Cornwall, I read the bus stop sign in the photo, picked up my phone, and with Google Maps had the attached exact coordinate and view of the street within 30 seconds. Today’s fanciful forensic TV programmes are not so far from the mark.
The one tech item you may have missed in your 2013 predictions are wearable screens. They may not surface this year, but when they do (soon), they will be a transformative technology. Then I won’t even need to reach for my phone to put this together.
SAVING WATER DOESN’T NEED HIGH TECH
I am constantly baffled by the growing number of hints, kinks and gizmos we read about purporting to help us save water at the WC. By far the simplest, cheapest and best method is to tie a short length of copper wire under the head of a (say) 75mm x 10mm brass bolt (some experimenting may be necessary) and hook it onto the float valve or whatever. Flushing will then start, as usual, when you press the button, but will stop as soon as you release it. You can thus control the amount of water you use according to your needs. Refill is still automatic.
On the top of the toilets that I have modified I have stuck this simple instruction for visitors (who are highly amused): ‘Straight flush: press once. Royal flush: press and hold.’ The float-operated flush currently in use probably dates back to the middle ages, when people could not be trusted to be hygienic. Surely we have moved on since then?
Stuart Bridgman CEng MIET
Brooklyn, Wellington, New Zealand
THE CHANGING FACE OF ENGINEERING
When Sir John Fowler was earning £309,000 a year in the 19th century (equivalent to nearly £20.5m today) for his work on the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways, his chairman, Sir Edward Watkin, complained that “No engineer in the world was so highly paid”.
I seem to recall being told that this was the highest salary in Britain at that time – not just the highest in engineering. Fowler, like Brunel, Watt, Telford and others, was a highly regarded and respected figure in the public arena of the time.
I joined the Institution of Production Engineers in 1971 and did mourn its passing when the Mechanicals turned us away and the Electricals welcomed us to their Manufacturing Division, but I now regard this as having been progress.
When I look back, the IProdE was narrowly focused on the intricacies of the latest lathe or machining centre. Compare that with the stunning breadth and vision in the content of the March issue of E&T.
Addressing the challenge of water deprivation; reverse engineering the brain and mapping the mind; engineering the tools for scientific discovery; designing metropolises and designing future road-link strategies are more likely to return engineers to the forefront of respect in society than carping on about our lack of status in our own ‘closed shop’ forums.
I cringe when I read of ‘non-engineers’ being castigated. I really don’t care if Dyson is chartered or not. Perhaps instead of putting him in his place, we should offer him an honorary fellowship for his inventive approach?
Let’s not forget that Bill Gates, who is speaking at the Global Grand Challenges summit, dropped out of university to found Microsoft. Nor that the $500m that his co-founder Paul Allen has put into researching reverse-engineering the brain accrued from the profits of that same company.
To add to the ‘rumblings’ regarding the status of engineers I would offer that to carp on at the IET in its magazines and Web pages is not the route to take. It is preaching to those who already know; there are those who do not care.
All that we registered professional engineers have to realise is that our governing body is the Engineering Council and it is to that body that our concerns should be addressed.
Go thou then, my brethren, to engc.org.uk, select ‘About us’ then ‘Status of engineers’; and read and inwardly digest.
DM Loxley CEng MIET
Pickering, North Yorkshire
Please would you consider publishing a commemorative issue during 2013 dedicated to not printing any letters or articles whingeing about the status of engineering?
The debate has been grinding away for decades to no avail and taking up valuable column inches that would be better used for something more educational or informative. I’m sure there are a great number of people who, like me, achieve satisfaction from a job well done. If people crave recognition or publicity then I suggest they re-train and start a career in politics or broadcasting.
Dave Rogerson CEng MIET
In the letter from Alan J Sangster in the March 2013 issue of E&T headed ‘Shale gas plans indefensible’, the reference to “the dangerous 40°C world where we are currently heading” should have read “the dangerous 4°C world”. This refers to the average temperature rise above the long-term pre-industrial level, resulting from current trends in potential warming, which a recent World Bank report warned must be avoided. In ‘Fusion energy’ in the February 2013 issue, the fact box about ITER on page 33 should have said that fuel is heated in excess of 150 million °C.
‘Mapping the Mind’ in the March 2013 issue of E&T made several mentions of Bluebrain, a documentary film-in-the-making about attempts to reverse engineer the human brain. Director Noah Hutton has asked us to point out that readers can find out more about the film and watch extracts at www.bluebrainfilm.com.