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THE POINT OF PASSWORDS
I have to disagree with Daniel Fowler's claim that password managers are not needed (Letters, September 2014). A password manager's primary role is not to protect your passwords from theft; it is to allow the bulk of your passwords to differ for when they are stolen. As a security professional, I am subscribed to hundreds of websites. Any one of those could be compromised and my password leaked; a number of them have poor security. If that same password is reused, or even just similar in pattern, then the attacker already has my email address and password, ready to try on a host of other sites.
The way to approach password management is the same as all security – risk management. Are you securing something important? If that password were compromised, does it secure other important things? It is not a requirement to have different passwords for every site, though I would argue that a password manager does make that easy, producing true entropy-based strong passwords. There are alternatives such as websites using OpenID through Google or Facebook et al. Physical two-factor authentication can also be very effective, but sometimes scales poorly. Passphrases can be better security if they are not vulnerable to dictionary attacks. Passwords are pointless if the password reset is easily compromised.
Jeff Hotchkiss MIET
ENGINEERING'S LACK OF RECOGNITION
Phil Holbrook is right to remind us of the desperate situation in which we professional engineers have put ourselves (Letters, September 2014). Expressing our concerns about the status of engineers is a well-trodden path, but we always end up with the status quo.
The public are familiar with regulated professionals such as doctors, vets, dentists, lawyers and accountants. Their engagements with 'engineers', however, are with washing-machine repairers, car mechanics, broadband installers and the like. This gives them that well-known perception of engineers as workers and tradesmen who 'fix things'.
Many have commented on the public's ignorance of what professional engineers actually do – and we are to blame. Unlike other major countries in the world, we don't use the title professional engineer, or the post-nominal PEng; instead we confuse the public not just with 'chartered engineer', but also with 'incorporated engineer', and even 'registered engineer'. We don't insist that the media recognise our major achievements as those of professional engineers, but seem to accept them being attributed to science and scientists.
What we need is a complete rebranding of engineering to present a true image of what we do at all levels. We need to involve the media, the professional institutions, employers, politicians, and academics – all the stakeholders who can proclaim the major part we play in everyone's lives. Then, perhaps, we will be appreciated; then, perhaps, our best young people will be beating at the door to a career in engineering. Interested readers may like to read my blog on these and associated topics in 'Sorting out Engineering' at kelfidler.com
Prof Kel Fidler CEng HonFIET FREng
A colleague's daughter's class were asked by the teacher to name as many chartered professions as they could. Many answers were trotted out including the usual suspects: accountant, surveyor, secretary etc. My friend's daughter added engineering, her father being a chartered engineer. The teacher immediately told her that there was no such thing as a chartered engineer! Needless to say the school was paid a visit by my colleague.
Michael Martin CEng MIET
WHY GREENFIELD IS RIGHT TO WORRY ABOUT SCREENS
It was good to see so much space given to Susan Greenfield's book Mind Change in the interview in the October 2014 issue of E&T. Engineers are so often defensive when faced with what appears to be criticism of technological activities or products, hence a book questioning possible adverse effects of the iPhone and similar devices is both valuable and timely, particularly regarding young people in their late teens and early 20s.
She is absolutely right to be concerned on this matter. When I observe fellow travellers on the tube or main line trains I share her worries. As she says, smartphones encourage passivity and inactivity rather than initiative and action, both of which can only be detrimental to both the body and the mind. I hope the article will prompt many of your readers to buy the book.
John Gamlin MIET
WIRELESS IS ONE KEY TO SMART CITIES
I read the article on smart cities in the October 2014 issue of E&T with interest. It has great potential to offer us a different and, arguably, better life. However, the public sector has a tendency to focus on technology stacks and single-solution deployments in specific city and town departments – which comes at the expense of integrated solutions.
While the Government's Smart Cities Forum is helping us move in the right direction, more needs to be done to help towns and cities understand why a more strategic investment will lead to its vision being realised. A strategic approach to rolling out integrated, end-to-end IT solutions in communities sees councils quickly realise the environmental and economic efficiencies, and quality of life improvements that can be derived.
There is no doubt that cities worldwide face unprecedented budgetary pressures, yet also need to deliver enhanced online and real-time services to their communities. The challenge of managing sustainable urban growth is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. City leaders, mayors and politicians are already wrestling with these challenges and are looking to make investments that will position their cities for growth, as attractive centres for investment and innovation and as fulfilling places to live.
One of the most effective means for delivering these Smart City capabilities is through the use of wireless networks. While super-fast broadband offers connectivity, it comes with costly E1 lines. Point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless technologies can interconnect municipal offices, police stations, fire stations, businesses and communities throughout the area at significantly less expense. What is more, integrated wireless technology across towns and cities coupled with dedicated, compelling app content allows these areas to build stronger relationships with their residents, engage their visitors and support their businesses. The opportunities provided by Wi-Fi – from improving safety and the environment to increasing footfall for local businesses – are endless this era of tight governmental budget constraints, capital-efficient solutions delivered by highly competitive public-private partnerships are likely to be the business model that wins the day.
CEO, intechnologyWiFi, Harrogate
It happened during a brief period of wakefulness at night, on a campsite at Pontoson in northern France.
As I lay there in the silence, I became aware of the whining road noise of a lorry driving through the night on a distant motorway. The steady whine of the truck continued for perhaps 80 to 90 seconds before being replaced by another nocturnal traveller, and repeated at regular intervals until I fell asleep. But before I resumed my slumber, I was consciously aware that there had been no rising or falling cadence that would accompany a passing vehicle.
Some time later I awoke again to see if it really was the case that French trucks displayed no Doppler shift as they passed. This was confirmed by the very next lorry, and I started to formulate some theories about how this could arise.
Was it the case, for example that the motorway in question was a ring road around the town so that the distance between the traffic and me was always roughly similar? If so then I would have noticed the direction of the noise change, perhaps spanning 180 degrees across the campsite, but as I listened hard, I perceived that the noise was confined to one area, to perhaps a 15 to 20 degrees arc.
I considered other possibilities and dismissed them all.
When I woke to the still of the morning, the same phenomenon was present. Can anybody offer a best guess as to what I was experiencing?
Dr Steve Barnes CEng MIET
HEARING AID SOLUTION
I can assure Neil Muir (Letters, September 2014) that there are hearing aids which will suppress transient noises like rattling cutlery and clashing crockery. I am currently trialling hearing aids trying to find one that will reproduce music with acceptable fidelity and with which I can sing in my local choral society.
The first pair I tried exhibited exactly the effect that Mr Muir wishes to achieve. However, I found the dull thuds so unrealistic that I spoke to my audiologist, who programmed them to restore those transients to an acceptable level. These were top of the range hearing aids, not NHS. Mr Muir's audiologist ought to be able to offer a solution, either by reprogramming his aid or by recommending a different one.
Frederick Hartley FIET