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Turning off and on again
The popular press have suggested that the problem with smart metering is that it can be hacked to predict, through the monitoring of power usage, the optimum time to break into a property.
Whether or not this happens to be the case, I predict that when smart metering becomes widespread a plethora of apps and gadgets will appear on the market that will overcome this fear by remotely switching your appliances in order to fool people into thinking that somebody is present.
This will, by its very nature, negate any savings that smart metering is meant to produce.
Reid Thomas IEng MIET, Frimley, Surrey
The unseen hands driving technology
The editor's letter and articles on the subject of engineering Utopia in E&T's opening issue of 2014 were surely intended to provoke response from our engineering community. Scanning letters throughout the year I noted some oblique comments, but no debate pondering where our increasingly connected digital technology is leading us. It is perhaps because the majority of us prefer to put the matter out of mind rather than contemplating the spectre of the possible reality of life once IT edges into the realms of artificial intelligence.
Throughout 2014 the pages of E&T have informed us of the ever greater automation and integration of communication between all systems on which our everyday lives depend. This trend is all-pervasive. Be it power generation, transmission and distribution. Be it transport, both public and private. Be it welfare, both social and medical. Throw in 'Big Data' and the Internet of Things. The list is endless and there is no escape.
This accelerating development, driven mostly in the name of lifestyle enhancement and economic advantage, is in the control of an ever decreasing number of, mostly unseen, hands. Can we entrust the destiny of mankind to the so-called free market forces, which have already created such instability in our global economy?
Surely the engineering community must more openly engage in considering the ethics of the situation it is helping to create. Or is it already too late for unfettered debate?
Peter Hinze CEng MIET, by email
Follow the North American example
I have been following the correspondence on the status of professional engineers and their recognition by the public. This is a matter of great importance which should be resolved without further delay. It is 63 years since I joined the IEE, and my proudest moment was becoming a Fellow. Of these years 30 were spent in the UK and 33 in the USA, appropriately I hold dual citizenship. The job titles I have had include chief engineer, technical director, VP engineering and VP technology. In the UK I was a CEng and in the US I am a PE, and for years I was a Senior Member of the IEEE.
Thirty years ago US engineers used a variety of post nominals, including BSc, EE, MIEEE etc. Now the only one which seems to be regularly used outside academic circles is PE, and this usage is strictly regulated. It is my opinion that this has enhanced the status and recognition of professional engineers. The term 'professional engineer' has legal protection in the US and any unregistered person using it, or its abbreviation, will be subjected to substantial fines.
Furthermore the PE qualification is a mandatory requirement for consultants and those offering 'engineering services', and those signing off design drawings for projects where public safety is an issue.
I urge IET members to push for the adoption of the PE designation in the UK. It is quite right that the word 'engineer' cannot in itself be given legal protection, but I think that the term 'professional engineer' can, although it might require an Act of Parliament to bring it about.
Peter J Green PE FIET, Barboursville, West Virginia, USA
Anthony Williams' proposal that the Privy Council adopts the use of the title chartered technologist (Letters, December 2014) is a step in the wrong direction. The title 'technologist' is established in many countries and is understood to be a college-level qualification. Following this route will cause further confusion especially for UK engineers who work or want to move on an international basis.
As a chartered engineer moving to Canada I was aware of the restrictions that existed on practicing engineering and the use of the title I consequently applied for. The title 'engineer' is legally protected at the Federal and the Provincial levels. Each Province has legislation in place that restricts the use of the title 'professional engineer' and the right to practice engineering to individuals who hold a provincial engineering licence. The Provincial Engineering Acts include very broad definitions of what constitutes professional engineering, and are used to ensure compliance.
Nigel Doran CEng MIET, By email
I recently received a letter from my bank requesting endorsed documents for proof of identity and address. A very comprehensive list of professions whose members could endorse the documents was provided including the usual well known candidates of dentists, doctors, accountants etc but also quite a few I had not seen before. Nowhere in the list did I see a single scientific or engineering profession.
I suggested to the bank that they might like to consider chartered engineer as a valid profession for endorsing documents as without it most of their modern business would not exist. We should not exclude our colleagues in other scientific and technology institutions and perhaps one small way to start raising our profile would be to promote full membership as a valid qualification for endorsing documents.
Alex Cranswick MIET, Swindon
'An engineer has been called...'
I was chatting with two retired executives – one had been in local government and the other with Customs and Excise. The latter said he telephoned his energy supplier about a dangerous post outside his house and was told that an engineer would be sent to rectify the problem. When I said I hoped he had told them he did not want an engineer but a maintenance person, they both accused me of being picky. It can be no surprise that I prefer to be known as an applied scientist.
Geoffrey Evans FIET, Digswell, Herts
A clearer title
My current title as a chartered electrical engineer has been accepted by the public without question. It shows in three words my professional discipline, without any 'greasy-hands' connotation. This would seem the way forward to include our discipline in the title and clarify the public's perception of the engineering profession.
Chris Robinson MIEE MIET, Morton-in-the-Marsh
Engineers are part of a team
Engineering is a team game. A winning team combines the skills of professional engineers alongside a suitable combination of other skilled and unskilled workers. Society gives status to the industry according to the utility of the systems we deliver, and greater status is given according to the complexity of the needs and desires satisfied.
High-status engineered systems are achieved by skilfully blending the contribution from all participants. Successful organisations must share the rewards judiciously among those participants if they are to sustain that success.
Your correspondents who want successful companies to attribute a greater share of that status to the professional engineers can only achieve that at the expense of the others in the value chain. This will inevitably upset the balance within the team and thus diminish the overall value added. Furthermore we cannot justify higher status for professional engineers in general only on the grounds that successful engineering teams include professional engineers.
Engineers who do not see themselves as part of a team may be more comfortable if they were described as scientists. Those who progress through applying our education and experience in the engineering industries will continue to share our destiny with other members of our teams. Society will continue to use the terms engineering and engineer loosely, even as it continues to consume the industry's products. We should be more comfortable with that.
Dr C Kermack MIET, by email
Keeping the lights on
Alan Dick and no doubt many others are concerned about 'the lights going out' (Letters, December 2014), and may be of the opinion that it is more important to have a secure electricity supply rather than meet our obligation to cut carbon emissions.
Apart from the fact that clean renewable energy can meet our needs, given good planning and commitment, let's consider the consequences of not cutting carbon emissions. The 2014 IPCC report makes worrying reading. Taking just one example, it predicts over 70 per cent likelihood of crop yields falling by more than 10 per cent by the end of the century, and a nearly one in five chance of falling below 50 per cent.
To get an idea of what this means, if the planet was able to support just 10 per cent fewer people over a 50-year period, then 16 million people would need to 'disappear' each year. An optimistic outlook is decades of famine, war and strife.
Let's get things in perspective and focus on the important issue of safeguarding our future.
Dr Rob Basto, Reigate
The long-overdue recognition of Alan Turing in your December edition overlooks – as does 'The Imitation Game' and all the recent publicity – the significant influence Max Newman had on Turing. Newman was his mentor at Cambridge and his support continued all his adult life. He and his wife Lyn Irvine provided a sanctuary for Turing in their home and took care of him in his final years.
In some reports Turing is credited with the first digital computer but this was Colossus and down to Tommy Flowers with Max Newman's guidance.
I never met Turing but did know the Newmans personally. Max was self-effacing and would have been pleased with the recognition his protégé has belatedly received.
Dr Peter Tanner FIET, Tadley
Too much competition
Working in a large engineering consultancy, I understand the value and necessity of competition in the marketplace; however, I am concerned that this relentless desire to compete may well be holding engineering back.
As a young engineer I was an active Neighbourhood Engineer, helping out at a local school with a view to making engineering something of interest to 11-15 year olds. The school was very proactive and we had several themed days every year, including events with guests such as Helen Sharmer the first British astronaut.
Circumstances changed and I unfortunately had to back away from this, but a few years later when I tried to re-engage I found the Neighbourhood Engineer scheme had been replaced by STEMNET and STEM Ambassadors, managed by SETPOINTS - all hugely bureaucratic and, having only attended one event, I gave up.
Who has lost out? Engineering, as I no longer have a means to tell young people what a great career it can be without wasting hours on bureaucracy associated with people competing to get more members and presumably grants of some nature.
I recently attended an event with the IMechE and felt like a traitor because I was at a 'competing' institution's event. Not only did this seem to be a feeling that pervaded the audience, but worse still the competition between 'rival' geographically split sections was highly evident. I fear, if this had been a local IET event, the same rivalry would have been present.
I have spent some time talking to various representatives from academia – the very people that once we have managed to convince young people to play with Meccano and Lego, light bulbs and batteries, should be turning them into our engineers of the future. Guess what? There is a huge drive to compete against their fellow academic institutions, not only for students but also for research Again I can only assume this is related to grants, fees and subsidies.
When we are at work we have to compete, that is the nature of business; but I would look to the institutions and indeed academia to provide a safe haven from this where we can all work together to promote engineering. Is this too much to ask?
Fraser S Greenwood CEng MIET, Birmingham
Dr Steve Barnes asks why he didn't observe the Doppler effect when listening to distant motorway traffic while lying awake in his tent on a French campsite (Letters, November 2014). I think the clue is in the description of "whining road noise". If the noise can be imagined to be coming from the patch of the road the tyre is interacting with, then the source of the sound isn't moving with respect to the hearer, and the tyre is moving on to make a noise with another stationary patch of road. In effect, the sound is coming from an array of stationary sources in turn. Hence no Doppler shift. Although some or all of the noise might come from the tyre, the part of the tyre that is making the noise is stationary on the road for an instant and the same reasoning applies.
R Govett, by email
There has previously been comment in these pages regarding that new unit of power, the 'home' and, I assume, its multiples, the 'kilohome' and the 'megahome'. It appears that there is now a sub-unit of the 'home'. I notice that, in a recent edition of the National Trust magazine, there is the statement that "At Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire we've converted all lights to LED, saving the equivalent energy it takes to make 1.2 million cups of tea". Disregarding the Trust's apparent confusion regarding energy and power, I wonder how many 'cups of tea' make one 'home'?
Graham Denton, by email
The article on space-based solar power in the November 2014 issue of E&T referred to an area of 1,200 square km as 5 per cent of UK land mass. This should have been qualified as 5 per cent of land mass not already in use for building, pasture, forestry and agriculture.