If #ScotlandDecides YES, what might the Union Jack flag look like in the future – an annotated infographic

September 18, 2014

The current Union Jack flag is a composite of the flags of England and Scotland, plus Ireland’s cross of St Patrick, adopted prior to Irish Home Rule. If Scotland were to vote yes today in the majority for breaking away from the Union, what will become of the Union Jack flag?

The flag’s backstory: in 1603 King James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England and became King James I of England. At this point, although both kingdoms had the same king, they remained separate sovereign states with their own parliaments, judiciary and laws.

In 1606, the King ordered a Union Flag to combine the Scottish Cross of St Andrew (also known as the Saltire, the term being a heraldic symbol in the form of a diagonal cross) with England’s Cross of St George. According to the Flag Institute, over the following years the Union Flag became known colloquially as “the Jack” or the “King’s Jack”, the term jack being a diminutive derived from the term for a small flag flown from the bow of a vessel to indicate its nationality. By 1674 the flag was officially recognised by the term Union Jack.

In 1707, the two parliaments were united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based at the Palace of Westminster in London. In 1801, the Kingdom of Great Britain united with the neighbouring Kingdom of Ireland. That particular decision has provoked lively debate, shall we say, over the years.

It seems likely that today’s decision will prove equally contentious, with reverberations set to echo from Land’s End to John O’Groats for years to come.

If you are interested in the referendum decision from an engineer’s point of view, you genuinely could do a lot worse than consult our last magazine issue, the Scottish referendum special.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

"United we stand, divided we're lumbered"

“United we stand, divided we’re lumbered”

New issue of E&T magazine now available online – the Back to School issue

September 17, 2014

The new issue of E&T magazine is available online now: the Back to School issue.

Yes, it’s that time again for back to school: the three little words every child dreads, but which are as inevitable as the autumn leaves falling. We look at ICT in the classroom and how the new curriculum is a welcome change. It takes the students more ‘under the hood’, from computer architectures to coding. It was a lack of computing graduates that inspired Cambridge technologists to come up with the Raspberry Pi. The new curriculum now allows teachers to use the miniature computer in ICT lessons.

We also look at how more students are taking STEM A-levels and choosing maths over English, with more children also taking engineering GCSEs – just as the courses are about to be phased out. The engineering skills shortage may be worse in the UK than elsewhere but it’s not alone. We look at who is doing what in schools and colleges around the world. Who gets the best education in engineering? Who gets ‘Well Done’ and who ‘Must Try Harder’?

Check out the new issue of E&T magazine online.

E&T: old school

E&T: old school

#Rosetta comet landing site identified – J marks the spot – an annotated infographic

September 16, 2014

Scientists have selected a landing site on the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the first-ever comet landing attempt in November.

Dubbed ‘Site J’, the spot where the Philae lander carried by the Rosetta spacecraft will attempt to touch down lies on the head of the comet. The location was chosen from five candidate sites as part of a complicated evaluation process, which forced the engineers to many trade-offs.

“As we have seen from recent close-up images, the comet is a beautiful but dramatic world – it is scientifically exciting, but its shape makes it operationally challenging,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

“None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100 per cent level, but Site J is clearly the best solution.”

Read the E&T news story about the Rosetta comet landing site in full online.

Click on either graphic for an expanded view.

Rosetta, coming to a comet near you

Rosetta, coming to a comet near you


All about Rosetta

All about Rosetta

#PistoriusTrial verdict: Oscar guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) – trial history – an annotated infographic

September 12, 2014

A South African judge has found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but declared him not guilty of murder and premeditated murder.

The sentence for a culpable homicide conviction is at the judge’s discretion and can range from a suspended sentence and a fine to up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing will be announced at a later date.

Pistorius was also convicted on one of three unrelated firearm charges. The judge ruled that the athlete was guilty of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place when a friend’s pistol he was handling discharged under a table in a restaurant in Johannesburg in early 2013 – mere weeks before Steenkamp’s killing.

He was acquitted on two other gun charges.

Oscar Pistorius appeared in E&T magazine in 2012, in our feature on paralympic technology. We also featured the technology behind Oscar Pistorius’ blade legs in an infographic here on our WordPress blog.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Oscar Pistorius: guilty of manslaughter

Oscar Pistorius: guilty of manslaughter

#AppleWatch and #iPhone6 officially here… and there was much rejoicing – an annotated infographic

September 10, 2014

And lo, it came to pass: Apple finally announced some new gadgets and the interwebs went in to meltdown.

As everyone in the world now knows – even people in medical comas and lost civilizations deep in the Belgian Congo, prob’ly – Apple has unveiled its newest iPhone, alongside a larger-screened version and the company’s first foray into the wearables market – the Apple Watch.

The iPhone 6, the latest iteration of the company’s flagship smartphone, has already boosted screen size from the 4 inch iPhone 5S to 4.7 inches, but the new iPhone 6 Plus comes with a 5.5-inch screen, closer to the increasingly popular ‘phablets’ produced by companies such as Samsun and HTC.

The company also revealed the first new product to be developed and introduced under CEO Tim Cook’s reign, is a smartwatch wirelessly tethered to the iPhone that can receive phone calls and messages, play music, serve as a digital wallet to pay for goods and monitor heart rates via special sensors.

“I am so excited and I am so proud to share it with you this morning. It is the next chapter in Apple’s story,” said Cook. “Apple Watch is most personal device we’ve ever created.”

Read the E&T news story in full online, covering the Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch in detail.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

OMG!! Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch!! Etc!!!

Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch released!!! OMG, WTF and so forth!!!

Malaysia Airlines #flightMH17 definitely hit from the outside, preliminary report states – an annotated infographic

September 9, 2014

A preliminary report into the causes of the MH17 tragedy has confirmed the aircraft was penetrated from outside, in line with suspicions it was shot down by either side of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The report, released by the Dutch Safety Board (DBS) who is leading the investigation, said damage found on the wreckage “appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft” and that “the pattern of damage observed in the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.”

Read the full E&T news story about the Flight MH17 preliminary report.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Flight MH17: shot down

Flight MH17: shot down

#Apple #iPhone6 is a new threat to Samsung’s sliding market share – an annotated infographic

September 5, 2014

It’s been a topsy-turvy week for Apple, first with the news that it was probably a vulnerability in its iCloud service that was exploited in order to winkle out amateur-ish, pseudo-saucy photos of foolish celebrity ladies; then the news that it probably wasn’t iCloud’s fault; to finally the announcement from its 2012 arch eco-nemesis Greenpeace that Apple is now looking pretty spiffy in the renewable energy department – much classier than Microsoft, Google and Amazon, for instance.

Now with the iPhone 6 launch imminent, Apple is looking forward to giving its most-hated market rival Samsung a sound kicking in the finances. Seen by many as the Android foil to Apple’s iOS devices, Samsung has already lost seven per cent of its global smartphone market share in the last 12 months. The launch of the super-sized iPhone 6, along with a possible iWatch, could see the stock price of the Korean tech giant/serial intellectual property appropriator slide further south – and this in spite of, or possibly because of, the release of such nonsensical gadgetry as the Samsung Gear VR headset.

Apple’s stock, naturally, is at an all-time high.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple iPhone 6 threat to Samsung

Apple iPhone 6 threat to Samsung

E&T news weekly #16 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

September 5, 2014

Friday September 5 2014

  James Hayes James Hayes, technology features editor
Parents increasingly keen on digital careers

World economies will need more software-savvy techies to enter the workplace over the next two decades; but the practice of managing and analysing large datasets also should prove to be an important determiner of employment. By the end of 2015, Gartner estimates that 4.4 million IT jobs globally will be created to support Big Data, generating 1.9 million IT jobs in the US alone. Every Big Data-related role in the US will create employment for three people outside of IT, so over the next four years a total of 6 million US jobs in the US will be generated by the information economy, the analyst predicts.


  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Apple says system not breached in celebrity photo hack

Is there seriously more fuss about a few dozen of revealing pictures than about all the industrial know how and money stolen around the world by various cyber gangs? It must have been a hard way for the celebs to learn the cyber security basics, such as not putting naked pictures online (seriously? who could ever do that?), or not bothering about their passwords too much.

Gut bacteria turned biofuel producer

Bioengineering is fascinating. A little bit of clever modification and voila – an ordinary gut bacteria starts producing engine ready propane. Now scale it up a bit and who needs fossil fuels anymore?


  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Apple leading the way on green gadgets

Two years ago, Greenpeace publicly slammed Apple over its use of “dirty energy” in powering the California computer company’s iCloud data storage centres. Now, the environmental campaign group has singled out Apple as a leading light in the use of renewable energy and also for its commitment to the total removal of hazardous substances in its products. Apple’s data centres scored 100 per cent in Greenpeace’s clean energy index, with none of Apple’s energy coming from coal, nuclear or natural gas sources. The company was awarded “A” ranks in energy transparency, deployment and advocacy and commitment, scoring a “B” rank in its energy efficiency. Microsoft was awarded “C” rankings for all categories, while Amazon scored “D” and “F” – the same ratings Apple got in 2012.


  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
EU bans power-hungry vacuum cleaners

Starting this month, a new EU legislation means manufactures in Europe will be unable to make or sell vacuum cleaners with the power consumption of more than 1,600 watts. Currently vacuums average around 1,800 watts but this new law aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost research in energy efficient technologies. With the rush to buy existing power-hungry vacuums, retailers, such as Dyson have experienced a surge in profits.

Apple says system not breached in celebrity photo hack

This week, a wave of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were victims to intimate photos of themselves being exposed on image-sharing site 4Chan, due to a hack in Apple’s iCloud. Cyber-security experts have criticised Apple for not implementing two-factor authentication, especially as the iCloud can hold personal information. With Apple’s latest iPhone 6 set to be released this month, the timing of this hack couldn’t have come at a worse time.


  Edd Gent Edd Gent, online news reporter
Futuristic new airport for Mexico City

Norman Foster has been responsible for some pretty fantastic looking buildings, but this would certainly rival them if it comes to fruition. The single terminal design is both attractive and highly practical, doing away with the need for inter-terminal transport and allowing for some clever environmental conditioning technologies to be included.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Dyson’s robot vacuum cleaner packed with patented technology

Robot vacuum cleaners have been around for a while, but until now have been more of a status symbol than something you can rely on to keep your home clean. Much of their attraction is sheer entertainment value – from seeing them demonstrated I’d say that watching one negotiate a typical living room is probably more absorbing than most television. James Dyson reckons his ‘360 Eye’ will change that, branding previous attempts as gimmicks that “don’t see their environment, have little suction, and don’t clean properly”. Probably also avoids the strategy of the teenager coerced into household chores who believes that if they do it badly enough you won’t ask them again.

Hacking behind third of London’s car theft

Proving that the criminal fraternity will take advantage of any technological advance designed to make our lives easier, car thieves are cutting out the onerous business of stealing keys and hacking into remote locking systems. At the moment it’s a problem for owners of high-end vehicles that are attractive to thieves and also more likely to include the latest technology. As keyless access and operation become more mainstream though, it’s another thing for drivers to worry about. Another incentive to avoid driving altogether and get on your bike?


  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Barclays to introduce biometric finger vein scanning

This new technology sounds promising. My only concern is that its predecessors – fingerprint readers – often malfunction and are deemed not too reliable by many. I am all too familiar with daily tribulations of my friends at a London organisation where each morning they have queues at reception of visitors and staff banned from entering the offices by their chronically malfunctioning fingerprint scanners. It can be even more frustrating to face similar problems while trying to log into one’s bank account from a PC… So fingers crossed- in more than one sense! – for the new vein readers!

Dyson’s robot vacuum cleaner packed with patented technology

Breaking news: James Dyson has suggested this morning that Britain should leave the EU, over a dispute about vacuum cleaner energy efficiency regulations! I wonder what Brussels’ reaction to his new robotic hoover is going to be like (it is unlikely to fit it with their new restrictions either, or so I reckon). On a lighter note, I personally welcome the new robotic Dyson. In my latest book, a fantasy novel called “Granny Yaga”, both Yadwiga, a benign witch and the main heroine, and her sister Melissa, another white witch, fly Dyson vacuum cleaners, rather than traditional brooms. Their flying Dysons are equipped with photovoltaic panels, GPS devices, Koshchei (the demon) detectors and special “witch on” buttons… What can I say? Reality can often be stranger than fiction…

E&T news weekly #15 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

August 29, 2014

It’s been a short week with the bank holiday weekend, still we have covered enough news to chose from for our weekly best off. See which technology stories caught the attention of our editors: 

James HayesJames Hayes, technology features editor
Poor coding puts business applications at risk of hacking

Software developers have long been criticised for not ‘baking-in’ sufficient security from the moment the first line of code of a critical application is created, but CAST’s findings also revivify a debate that has been raging in enterprise IT governance circles for years: to what extent should critical software be ‘security audited’ before it is passed fit to be commissioned for ‘active service’?

Vitali VitalievVitali Vitaliev, features editor
Robots make best bosses, study suggests

Looking back at my 35-year-long career in journalism spanning a number of countries and continents, I am inclined to believe that robotic managers have been with us (covertly!) for a long time. Please note that my nearly seven years with the IET are excluded from this observation for obvious reasons…

London’s tech heart suffers from slow Internet

This story brings to mind an old, yet relevant, Russian proverb: “Cobbler’s children never have shoes.”

Professor Stephen Hawking backs ice bucket challenge

Three cheers for Professor Hawking and for his lovely daughter Lucy – a very talented writer, who, as I heard, took the brunt of the challenge onto herself.

dominic-lentonDominic Lenton, managing editor
Renewables growth stunted by policy, Agency warns

There are plenty of people sceptical about the wisdom of relying on renewable energy who will welcome the International Energy Agency’s prediction that although the sector is expected to account for just over a quarter of global generation by 2020, growth will slow rapidly after that point. Whether or not you agree, that fact that this is largely due to uncertainty about government policies and not something informed by technical evidence is another indication that security of supply is too important to be left to the politicians to sort out. 

Sheepdog study could lead to herding robots

Today’s youngsters would probably find the idea that there was once a whole television programme dedicated to sheep dog trials rather quaint, although I recall it being a lot more engaging than 24-hour live streaming video of events in the Big Brother house. With the imminent arrival of mechanical sheep dogs though, perhaps the time is ripe for a 21st century animal versus robot version; One Man and his Droid anyone?

Tereza PultarovaTereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Frantic efforts to save Galileo launch fiasco

It seems as if Galileo, Europe’s planned global navigation satellite system, was born, or designed, under an unlucky star. After years of organisational and budgetary problems, the ambitious project, aiming to show its technical superiority over American GPS, finally seemed to be on track. … Until that unfortunate August 22 when the first two Full Operational Capability satellites were launched to end up in a useless orbit. 

HitchBOT completes its journey across Canada

We had been following hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, from the onset of its cross-Canada trip and were happy to learn that the talking tweeting creature arrived at its destination in British Columbia safe and sound.

E&T news weekly #14 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

August 22, 2014

Friday August 22 2014

  Vitali Vitaliev Consumer adoption of 3D printing five to ten years away

Well, it looks like the much-hyped printing of cars, factories and skyscrapers will have to wait for a while. In the meantime, I am told that Dassault Systemes have developed a fully functioning 3D version of human heart which they will be demonstrating to the Press in Paris this autumn. I very much hope E&T gets an invite.

Canadian rail disaster could happen again, says regulator

Last January, while on holidays in Canada, I was very impressed by the Canadian Railway Museum in the outskirts of Montreal where, among other things, I learned about the fascinating history of Canadian railway dining (see my After All blog post). All stays fine on the Canadian railway dining front, so it’s time for the country’s railway authorities to look up from their restaurant car dining menus, to put aside their starchy serviettes and to start paying more attention to the issues of safety on the world’s second-largest country’s railways – the network that had helped to shape modern Canada.

Vitali Vitaliev, features editor


  Tereza Pultarova Safety car first step for Formula E’s wireless charging revolution

Having to put up with the reputation of an underdog in motorsport, Formula E is eager to prove not only the abilities of its all electric racing cars but also the potential it bears for technology development. At the last test event before the inaugural season’s kick-off, the championship’s partner Qualcomm unveiled its wireless charging technology for safety cars promising that, in the not so distant future, fans will see much ambitious wireless charging concepts deployed in the races including charging racing cars while driving.

Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter


  Edd Gent Car batteries recycled to make solar panels

Perovskite solar cells hold major promise as an ultra-cheap alternative to silicon technology, but their production can have some nasty side effects on the environment due to the use of lead. A method for reusing the lead in car batteries, which would otherwise end up in landfill, is a brilliant way of killing two birds with one stone.

Edd Gent, online news reporter


  Aasha Bodhani M2M connections to increase by 21 per cent in 2014

Research from analysts Berg Insight says mobile network connections for M2M communication will increase by 21 per cent this year. This ‘connected management’ is being driven by adoption and demand in Europe and North America – this means companies can collect and analyse data. The analysts say the annual growth rate will reach 22.9 per cent by 2019.

Car batteries recycled to make solar panels

Roughly 90 per cent of the lead recovered from recycling batteries is used to produce new ones, however researchers at MIT have come up with another solution; solar panels. According to the team, lead-acid batteries are most likely to decline, leaving a lot of lead with no obvious purpose. However, tests reveal a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to power 30 households.

Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor


  Jonathan Wilson Wireless charging using resonating crystals

As someone with two recently failed mobile phones and a defunct laptop – all of which are only considered ‘broken’ because the batteries in all three devices no longer respond to charging from the USB cable – the idea of a wireless charging system is like manna from heaven. Sadly, for me, the technology is still at the research stage, so I can’t put off buying a new phone any longer.

Camouflage system mimics cuttlefish skin

News of an electronic camouflage skin that automatically adapts to its surroundings seems so perfect and obvious a solution to the problem of hiding in plain view that I’m surprised it hasn’t been invented before now. Inspired by octopi and cuttlefish, the prototype currently only works in black and white (ideal for zebra enthusiasts), although a full colour spectrum version is next on the agenda for researchers at the University of Houston.

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor


  James Hayes First large-scale ‘Heartbleed’ cyber-breach reported

Expect to see more targeting of patient record data around the world. Black Hat hackers know that such datasets are among the most desirable in terms of resell value, because they contain plenty of categorised information that could prove lucrative to marketers of medications, healthcare services, and insurers, for example. It is one of the reasons why initiatives like the UK NHS’s ill-fated Care.data programme raised such vociferous concerns – big, publicly-funded healthcare organisations have the resources to properly secure patient data, but what about the third-parties with which that data might be shared?

James Hayes, technology features editor


  dominic-lenton Call to reverse decision to scrap engineering GCSE

Tighter marking of English exams may have made the headlines when GCSE results were released this week. Less well reported was the fact that the number of students who took engineering rose by 73 per cent, from 2,897 last year to just over 5,000. Why has the Government decided to scrap the course, along with electronics and manufacturing, by 2017? A good question, and one that the IET is urging it to consider in light of the skills crisis troubling employers.

New game to find next generation of cyber experts

In a similar vein, GCHQ has developed a new game that sees players attempt to protect a fictitious aerospace company from hackers as part of efforts to find the next generation of cyber-security experts. So the next time you ask your teenager why they waste so much time on computer games and they reply that they’re actually developing skills which could help them find a job one day, they could be telling the truth.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor


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