E&T news weekly #65 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday October 9 2015

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Microsoft reveals new phones, laptops and wearables

Microsoft announced a bunch of new devices this week, a couple of nice looking (but expensive laptops), a wearable band for jogging (which I don’t do) and two phones which on the face of it look like yet another incremental spec upgrade from last year’s flagship Windows phones. However, the most interesting feature of the new Lumia phones, which was probably not given enough publicity, is called Continuum. This allows them to plug into a dock which is in turn plugged into a full-size screen, keyboard and mouse- effectively replicating a proper Windows desktop experience. This is a development that’s far more interesting than any other phone released this year (including iPhone’s force touch which seems quite gimmicky at best). Just the mere fact that phone processors have become powerful enough to replicate a desktop environment is impressive, but it could also be a nod towards the future. This may be the very beginning of full-scale convergence where your phone, games console and home computer are all powered from one device.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
New IET president calls for more women in engineering

The fact that the IET’s new president is a woman shouldn’t be worthy of note, even if Naomi Climer is the first to hold the office in the Institution’s 144-year history. What her post has allowed her to, and has grabbed the attention of the national media, is to suggest that UK engineering firms are failing to recruit enough women and should be given quotas to redress the imbalance in the profession. Any kind of affirmative action like this always sparks debate. Even if it’s not an idea that industry is keen on adopting, this is a discussion that’s well worth having.

Ada Lovelace letters to be viewable by the public for the first time

Also on the subject of gender disparity in engineering, in the new issue of E&T out next week, we look at why computing has gone from being a discipline which engaged a lot of women as it emerged during the mid 20th century to one that’s dominated by men. The original woman in IT of course, was Ada Lovelace, who now has her own day every year on 13 October. Among this year’s events is the opening of an exhibition at London’s Science Museum where letters from the IET’s own Archives written by Lovelace to figures like Michael Faraday and Charles Babbage will be on display to the public for the first time. There’s no hurry to visit as the show runs until March 2016, but it’s one to put in your diary as something to make time for in the next few months and might even inspire some young women to think about a career in this area of industry.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
UK’s fastest bicycle engineered in Liverpool

This is pretty cool – could you imagine going 75mph on a bicycle? These were my thoughts, until I saw said bicycle. While this is, no doubt, a stunning feat of engineering, I can’t be the only one who’s a little perturbed by the prospect of this bicycle. Seriously, just look at it. Surely a bike like this removes any kind of pleasure that one could get from cycling? There’s no hope for surveying the countryside, or feeling the wind in your hair to help cool you down from your workout. Instead you’re lying down in an enclosed sort of coffin, peddling as if your life depended on it, while watching your surroundings through a periscope. Reaching 75mph in a man-powered machine is pretty cool, but doing it in this doesn’t sound like something I’d fancy.

Nuclear facilities vulnerable to cyber-attack, warns report

Well, this is alarming. A new report from the think tank Chatham House has warned that nuclear facilities around the world are at risk of cyber-attack. The report, which draws on interviews with 30 leaders within the nuclear industry, found that although nuclear facilities incorporate computer technology into their core systems, many plant workers are unaware of the risks of cyber-attack. This lack of awareness means that many plants are largely unprepared to deal with potential attacks, the risk of which are only expected to increase with the current rise in cyber-crime. The fact alone that nuclear facilities could be intercepted by hackers fills me with immense horror, but the nuclear industry’s apparent lack of awareness of the threat is downright panic-attack-inducing. Let’s hope that the nuclear industry leaders pay heed to the advice of the report and evaluate the risk – or at the very least invest in some staff training.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
GCHQ ‘smurfs’ can remotely control people’s phones

Our next issue of E&T, published next week just before the release of the new James Bond film, looks at seven Q gadgets and asks if they look plausible or primitive. The latest revelations from Edward Snowden prove that reality is stranger than fiction. Ian Fleming never dreamt of ‘smurfs’.

UK’s fastest bicycle engineered in Liverpool

Move over rocket-fuel-guzzling Bloodhound SSC and make way for the UK’s fastest bicycle built by engineering students from the University of Liverpool.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Trump’s Scottish golf course wind farm battle drags on

Arguably the world’s most selfish, self-important wannabe politician – and that’s really saying something, given the competition – Donald Trump routinely surpasses his own high standards of stupidity. His latest pointless beef is that the Scottish government has had the temerity to approve a wind farm in the North Sea, three kilometres from the shores of Aberdeen Bay, which will be distantly visible from the manicured greens of Trump’s luxury golf course. This has incensed the peculiarly coiffured Trump to the extent that he has vowed to continue his tantrum all the way to the European Court of Justice if his appeal against the Supreme Court ruling fails.

Spitfire wreckage to be exhumed after 75 years

Having undertaken further education in, and retaining enthusiasm for, the science of archaeology, I always like to hear of exciting new digs. This is a good one: on November 22 1940, a Spitfire plane being flown by 20-year-old Harold Edwin Penketh, a young pilot training to fight the Luftwaffe, fell from the sky and crashed in to the peat of the Cambridgeshire fens. Penketh’s body was dragged from the wreckage and he was buried in his home town of Brighton, but the plane’s remains were left to vanish into the peat. Now a team Cranfield University has conducted a geophysical survey of the area and believe they have located exactly where the wreckage is.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Facebook building satellite to give internet to Africa

Facebook’s Internet.org initiative is promising internet access to people in remote parts of Africa, by developing a satellite with French firm Eutelsat. Whilst the project will be the backbone of Facebook’s free mobile data scheme, it has received a backlash from critics saying it is too costly and it will threaten net neutrality, as well as freedom of expression and privacy. The AMOS-6 satellite however is under construction and is to be launched in 2016.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Trump’s Scottish golf course wind farm battle drags on

This news story reminded me of the battle between Donald Trump’s estate and scottish farmer Michael Forbes who – in 2011 – staunchly refused to sell his land chosen for an extension of Trump’s notorious Aberdeenshire golf course, despite a very attractive sum offered to him. Instead, the farmer came up with a famous (in Scotland) ‘NO GOLF COURSE’ slogan which the he painted on a farm shed in full view of Trump and his lawyers. For his attempts to rebuff Donald Trump, Michael Forbes has become a kind of national hero in Scotland, even if the battle he was fighting was largely doomed to fail. ‘Quixotic’ is the word that I was always tempted to describe Michael Forbes with. That is why I find the new windmills v Trump confrontation highly symbolic. Don Quixote, as we know, was keen to fight windmills too. I will be watching further developments with interest. An unexpected twist may follow if Donald Trump gets elected the next USA President. But that, I hope, is highly unlikely.

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