Juicing a Christmas tree cartoon

Your letters

Send your letters to The Editor, E&T, Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage, Herts SG1 2AY, UK, or to engtechletters@theiet.org. We reserve the right to edit letters and to use submissions in any other format.

Good timing

Mechanical watches should logically now be as popular as mechanical typewriters or steam engines. That they are not is due to a mixture of myth, hype, tradition and snobbery, all helped along by a vast marketing budget which sponsors sportsmen and celebrities to wear such things and then pays for adverts to boast about it.

The smartwatches described in the January 2014 issue of E&T might be viewed as ‘geeky’ now, but less than 10 years ago smartphones were also, before Apple made them ‘cool’. Maybe Apple’s expected smartwatch will change this or maybe people will continue to realise that the phone or smartphone they carry with them does a pretty good job of telling the time.

Smartphones do a better job of telling the time if they have an always-on clock, only possible with an OLED screen. This really does make a difference. Some of Nokia’s Symbian handsets had this feature as do a recent Motorola Android model and a Nokia Windows 8 model.

Tim Howlett MIET
By email


I thought, in view of your editorial in E&T, you might be interested in this photograph of my Mickey Mouse clock, a treasured possession from about 1935.

Edgar Martin MIET
West Wickham, Kent


The January 2014 issue of E&T refers to a Cesium 133 wristwatch whose accuracy is claimed to be “one second in a thousand years”. That is not much progress compared to a cheap digital watch I bought many years ago when they first appeared on the market. The accuracy was claimed to be “five seconds in 1 million years” - with a money back guarantee!

I was disappointed at the end of the first day when it was nine seconds slow. I took it back to the market stall the following week in protest and asked for my money back. “No sorry, there is nothing wrong with the watch.” “What about the guarantee?” I asked. “That will be honoured, sir. You can bring it back in a million years’ time and you will get your money back if it’s more than five seconds adrift; fast or slow - we won’t argue - it is a cast iron guarantee!”

I’m comforted by the thought, but I probably won’t bother. But it begs the question about the meaning of “one second in a thousand years” for the Cesium 133.

Cliff Williams IEng MIET
By email


I found the January 2014 issue of E&T very interesting, especially the articles on watches, but was slightly disappointed that no mention was made of the tuning fork electronic movement, which I believe was developed by Bulova.

In 1972, my wife bought me an 18ct tuning fork wristwatch marked IWC. Apart from changing the battery annually I have used it ever since and it is very accurate. I still have the receipt; the price was £250.

EurIng Richard Trim OBE FIET
Downton, Wiltshire


Don’t leave it all to big business

The recent Perkins review calls on parents, teachers, employers and government to unite to address the shortage of engineers in the UK.

A recent engineering week in Scarborough attracted a high turnout of young students, enabling them to interact with fun demonstrations and talk to friendly faces in what is often perceived to be an intimidating industry. It’s less encouraging to see that some armchair critics have criticised the government when it has finally made positive steps to unite the disparate engineering and manufacturing communities.

The UK has heritage of innovation. But despite being one of our greatest exports, our knowledge base has been eroded in recent years by the rapid growth of Asian markets. The government’s announcement of £49m in funding to address the skills shortage is welcome news.

The rapid pace of technological innovation means that by the time students leave university, their understanding of the industry may be outdated. At Harmonic Drive we have a programme to work with final year and postgraduate students to provide up to date robotics and transmission knowledge.

I would call on other SMEs and small businesses to engage with your local community in bringing about this long awaited change to the industry in similar ways. Don’t leave it all to big business and government. Perhaps then we can be justified in our armchair criticism.

Graham Mackrell, managing director, Harmonic Drive


Energy economics

Andrew Jamieson (Comment, January 2014) makes a strong case for the UK to be at the forefront of the offshore generation industry.

I applaud his ambition to create a supply chain and associated jobs based on our proven capability in offshore oil and gas industries. Where I part company with him is in his view that: “We are a wind-battered island, so clearly offshore renewable energy is one of the key tools for the UK to meet its carbon reduction target.”

The strike price for offshore wind generation has just been raised by the government to £140/MWh. Mr Jamieson’s target of a 30-40 per cent reduction by 2020 will bring the price neatly in line with the agreed strike price of £92.50 for nuclear generation. For me, as a consumer, the question is this. Do I want a reliable, carbon-free, base-load generation capability with low environmental impact? Or do I want an intermittent supply which generates carbon dioxide every time the gas turbines start up to compensate for the lack of wind or tide, and is generated by an environmental eyesore?

Peter Finch FIET
By email


The ‘strike-price’ of energy is the figure for the generating plant guaranteed by the government. Any shortfall between that and the price on the trading market is made up by the taxpayer.

Drax electricity generating station recently agreed a strike price of £105/MWh and only a few weeks ago the consortium offering to build the Hinkley C nuclear power station agreed a price of £90/MWh. The strike price for large offshore wind farms is expected to reduce to £135/MWh by 2020.

By subtracting the annual average pool price from the three strike prices and multiplying by a realistic annual energy output, one can arrive at an estimate of the subsidy for taxpayers. An offshore wind farm could receive £725m per year, Drax 2 £496m per year and Hinkley C (if built) £382m per year.

While wind farms and nuclear plants do not release operational carbon dioxide, Drax will make a net release of 154 million tonnes over a 20-year period and the offshore wind farm will cover 2,800 square km of sea.

And you say nuclear is expensive?

David M Loxley CEng MIET
Pickering, North Yorkshire


UK must regain its confidence

It saddens me to see the UK government signing deals to buy nuclear technology from France when the UK was a pioneer in this field. These deals mean that our children and grandchildren will pay rent for facilities that we should have been building.

The UK held a leading position in many forms of technology in the past and could do so again. We need government, with industry, to lead the development of new technologies. We should not leave it to others to take the development risks because they will then rightly profit from the fruits of their efforts. We seem to have lost our confidence and without this we will never be great again in our engineering achievements.

Development is very expensive but without it future generations will bear the burden of paying others for their technological know-how. They will also suffer from the lack of exports. This is not a xenophobic position; it is a realisation that all countries need to compete in the global technology race or accept a gradual and inexorable decline in their fortunes.

Clifford Hughes FIET
Bye email


Historic buildings

The ‘Heritage in Danger’ article in the January 2014 issue of E&T about the threat to the Kirkaldy Testing & Experimenting Works building in London (‘Stress at Work’) reminded me of an article in an Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities of Southern Africa newsletter. This related to the conversion of a 1920s power station building at Knysna, on the Southern Cape Garden Route, into a boutique hotel, which, as far as I am aware, is still open and a viable economic proposition.

Each historic building has its own potential and problems; there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. The SAIEE has recently restored a 1920s house, originally built to accommodate the Union’s chief ‘observer’ on the site of its Johannesburg headquarters and is now in the process of turning it into a museum of electrical engineering, with emphasis on the development of the industry and profession in South Africa.

Max Clarke MIET
Johannesburg, South Africa


What Dolby did

Ray Dolby, profiled in your November 2013 issue, may have been a successful marketer, but an inventor he was not. For too long the invention of pre-emphasis and de-emphasis networks has been attributed to him, but I just looked up three textbooks published in the early 1950s and they all include both techniques. What student of those days did not study them? These noise-reduction circuits may have been used as early as the 1930s.

S Laurence Cachia CEng MIET
Carlingford, NSW, Australia

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them