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Designing goods to be repairable
Speaking of the difficulty of repairing modern gadgets in his December issue editor’s letter, Dickon Ross says: “It is a lot easier and probably more logical to bin it and buy a new one.”
When I had my washing machine replaced, the delivery men had a hearty laugh at my comment that I hoped it would last the same 20+ years my old one had. I now use the cheapest kettle I have ever had. The previous two were from eminent makers and enhanced by elegant design, but failed after a life of less than a third of my current kettle.
Obsolescence and non-repair are not the only worries. Most computers, tablets, smartphones and also wind turbines depend on rare earth metals. Too many of the obsolete or just last year’s model will end up in landfill, making recovery of the metals impossible. China, the producer of 95 per cent of rare earth metals, can cut off supply as it did for some time during a dispute with Japan. The problem needs serious attention.
Alfred Reading MIET
The arrival of the latest issue of E&T, with its articles about ‘the new DIY’ and rise of the maker culture, couldn’t have been timed better. It fell through the letter box just as I finished the repair of my fridge. The electronic controller had died during the night after almost 30 years’ service. The fault was a dried-out electrolytic capacitor in the power supply and it is now back in action for the cost of about 25p.
John Cowburn CEng FIEE
Quotas, and the alternatives
As a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), I am really concerned about recent articles in E&T about the lack of women in the profession, and agree with the suggestion by new IET President Naomi Climer that quotas might help. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
According to WES, there are 5000 women who would like to come back to work after a career break. Most WES members have at least a first degree, are chartered, and possibly have a postgraduate qualification. Quotas would enable employers to see women and the potential of having diversity within their organisations. Within that 5000 there are likely to be candidates who have the ability and potential to go right up to board level, given the chance.
It seems like there are lots of graduate opportunities, but it’s difficult to get a job after a career break. So yes please, let’s have quotas for women of all ages. Give women a chance, because 5000 engineers is a lot of wasted talent that can be used to plug the skills gap.
IET and WES member
Years of crusading have made very little difference so it is glaringly obvious that for reasons which must be complex and very deep-rooted, most young women simply have no wish to become engineers.
It is often claimed that the problem lies with an erroneous popular idea of what engineering is all about, but I believe this is not true for today’s savvy young people. They are well aware that the study and practice of professional engineering requires special skills and knowledge underpinned with discipline and rigour. Not everyone is cut out for the level of analytical ability and commitment this entails, and I believe it is therefore extremely difficult to persuade anyone, regardless of gender, to embark on an engineering career unless he or she already has an intrinsic interest in the subject.
This lack of interest cannot ever be turned around solely by those who are already involved in engineering. It has its roots in national attitudes, values and popular culture. These are notoriously difficult to change but until they do we shall probably be obliged to outsource our engineering and follow the NHS in recruiting fully trained personnel of either gender from abroad.
Roy W Sach CEng MIET
Great Totham, Essex
By the time girls get to school most of them will already have learned what future roles may be suitable for them. I visited a toyshop recently where everything was in the pink section or the blue section. There are no prizes for guessing the location of anything like an engineering toy.
Let girls play all sports and do engineering activities, boys play with dolls and do caring activities. In addition, all children need to grow up feeling confident and self-directed. Girls need to grow up feeling that there is nothing that they cannot do just because they are a woman. Boys need to grow up being able to relate to women as equals.
This needs two things in particular. Being a parent should be seen as a valuable and relevant career step. Whilst the qualification must never be more than becoming a parent, the profession should be given the same status and support, including possibilities for training and CPD, that come with other professions. And it should be economically possible for every child to have at least one full-time parent.
Education must have as a central overriding objective that all children enjoy learning. Government-imposed curricula and testing are counterproductive, particularly to the needs of engineering. They lead to students disliking and, in practice, being poor at key subjects, particularly maths and science.
John Talbut CEng MIET
Holding on to CEeng
Having been forced into early retirement, and with no particular interest in working again, I’ve maintained my IET membership, pay my Engineering Council fees and maintain my chartered engineer status. I keep relatively current with the engineering world.
I’m proud of my CEng MIET status, but the cost is not trivial. Retired and former officers with the rank of captain and above maintain their hard-won honours, as do doctors. Are we not proud enough as a profession to continue to honour our engineers for what they have achieved without having to extract money from them every year?
Having CEng(Retired) status available for a nominal administration fee would not only portray to the public that professional engineer status is valuable to society and recognised by the profession when one retires, but also make CPD requirements for retired members and associated institution costs a moot point.
Nick Bailey CEng MIET
The Engineering Council replies:
An obligation to continuing professional development is deeply embedded within professional registration requirements; if your name is held on the national register it is a statement to society that not only has your competence been assessed, but that it is current. Additionally, registration brings with it a duty to abide by a code of conduct. Many professional engineers, when they retire from their paid professional life, continue to volunteer with us and with the professional engineering institutions. These individuals must still continue to meet CPD requirements. To add ‘retired’ after their postnominals would therefore not accurately reflect their continued professional engagement.
As a regulatory body, the Engineering Council operates under a Royal Charter. A common principle for chartered bodies is that protected titles are reserved for those who are actively engaged in their profession. Any change to this principle would need to demonstrate that it was in the public interest and would then require the agreement of the Privy Council. A proposal to > < extend these titles would be unlikely to succeed if it was based on the wish to promote the status of engineers who are no longer actively engaged in their profession.
Justin Pollard’s Eccentric Engineer column about John Wilkinson in the December 2015 issue of E&T reminded me of a question that often pops up in my mind when trying to deal with a live sole or plaice: how might the one-way slide character of their skin be exploited?
Having to pull our little dinghy up the beach by hand, I have wondered whether an enclosing loop of sole-skin type material might be exploited in some way.
Has an eccentric engineer, or indeed a normal engineer, attempted to exploit the fascinating one-way feature of the skin of these fishes?
Peter Burville FIET
Type 706 virtues
The Classic Project article on the GPO Telephone 706 in the December 2015 issue of E&T fails to mention the most important part of the design, its electrical performance.
The Type 706 was equipped with a better internal circuitry and in particular the ‘swinging armature’ receiver No 4T. This enabled the telephone to operate on line loop resistances of about 1000 ohms compared to the 650 ohms of the previous 300 series telephones, (the black Bakelite ones).
This improved performance could only be used because of another innovation, the regulator that reduced the sensitivity of the phone on short lines. There were major economic benefits from the introduction of this telephone, coming as it did at a time of major expansion of the telephone network, that made its modern looks a mere sideshow. Local line plant conductor sizes could be reduced, leading to higher capacity cables and more cable pairs per duct route. Typical cable conductor sizes prior to this telephone’s introduction were 10 sometimes 20 pounds per mile. Subsequently conductor size in the local network went down to 4.5 and even I think 2.5 pounds per mile in some cases. Incidentally, pounds per mile is a much more logical description of conductor size since it maps directly to resistivity and was always used in the GPO.
EurIng Mike Matthews MIET
One wise man
The issue of engineers’ status and role must at last be being heard. When my three-year-old grandson was asked what he wanted to be in his pre-school nativity play he answered, with no hesitation, “An engineer”. No further comment needed.
Andrew Mallett CEng MIET
Too many screws
I am not an expert, but I believe your depiction of the Gibson double-neck guitar in your November 2015 Classic Project may be based on a fake. Illogically, Gibson fixes its truss rod covers with just two screws. The more secure arrangement using three screws is an indication of a fake according to guides such as http://hubpages.com/technology/how-to-spot-a-fake-counterfeit-gibson.
Peter Williams MIET
‘Building on evolution: from insects to drones’, the article on sensor designs in the December 2015 issue of E&T, suggested that human ears are 30,000 times further apart than those of the parasitic fly Ormia ochracea. The curse of unit conversions affected author Sid Perkins’ calculations. Ormia’s eardrums are 0.52mm apart, a human’s 175mm, so the distance is only around 340 times greater.