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

Friday 9 September 2016

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Apple finally unveils iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Watch 2

Another year, another iPhone. This time it’s the iPhone 7, which actually removes features found in previous years’ models rather than adding new ones, namely the headphone jack and a real, clickable home button (real buttons! those were the days). While the removal of the button is probably the first step towards an entirely software-based home button (like Android has had for about four years) which is a good thing, the removal of the headphone jack has not been received positively. Apple knew this was going to be an unpopular move, which is why it bundled with it two sets of wired headphones that plug into the lightning port and a 3.5mm adapter that users can attach normal headphones to. This pandering seems like it’s missing the point of removing the port in the first place – to push the market towards wireless headphones. Considering Apple also unveiled wireless versions of its standard headphones at the iPhone 7 launch event, surely these should have been included instead to show iPhone buyers that this is the future. Instead the box will simply include a begrudging reminder that everyone really just wants to stick to reliable wires and can’t be bothered to worry about charging yet another device or worrying about inconsistent Bluetooth reception.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Sellafield nuclear plant is understaffed and dangerous BBC alleges

The Incredible Sellafield Hulk is coming! You shouldn’t really joke about how many lives are being put in danger here, but they are putting radioactive waste into bottles. What if someone was like “OOO GLOWING MOUNTAIN DEW! WHAT A HANDSOME DRINK!” Then they guzzle it down and die? Or they are Bruce Banner and are able to stand the nuclear poisoning and become the awesome super/anti-hero that everyone loves. They would be a Cumbrian Bruce Banner. How many people would be able to understand the comic book, what with all of the northern dialogue. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry, pet like…I need to get to the cowey!” Let’s hope they improve things, as they may have an outbreak of incredible green livestock, too.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Apple finally unveils iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Watch 2

I have absolutely no interest in ever owning an Apple product, but I was quite keen to see the specs of the new iPhone, if only to confirm my theory that it was going to be as much of a disappointment as the old iPhone models. I was right. First and foremost, I cannot believe that Apple still hasn’t developed an iPhone that can fast charge. Especially considering nearly all new Android phones come with this feature as standard, while costing significantly less than the iPhone’s staggering £599 price tag. And don’t even get me started on that stupid headphone jack. Why would you want to limit your users to only using the headphones supplied in your grossly overpriced box? Some people spend a lot of money on high-quality headphones and probably want to continue using them. I’m also fairly sure I’m not the only one who sometimes uses my headphones while charging my phone – or do Apple users not do this? I know a fair few of you are probably going to go out and buy an iPhone anyway, and that at least one person reading this will go and buy it without even looking at the specs, but I really think you should reconsider. Save yourself a few pennies and go for one of the top-end Android phones instead.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Fish scales help develop biomass power generator in India

The moral of this story is that there is no such thing as waste if you know what to do with it. Indian scientists demonstrated their resourcefulness and successfully used fish scales to create a biodegradable and biocompatible energy harvester that creates electrical energy when exposed to mechanical pressure. Fish waste is abundant in India and the researchers already dream about fish-scale-powered heart pacemakers harnessing the power of the beating heart.

London Underground retires 90-year-old tech in line upgrades

No surprise the London Tube is plagued with signal and all other sorts of failures when some of the technology in use to run the extensive network is …. ehm….. not exactly cutting-edge. But the situation will hopefully change within the next five years. 1920s systems will assume their well-deserved spots in museums and something a bit more modern will take their place. London Underground says that thanks to new technology frequency of trains on Circle and Hammersmith & City lines will increase by 33 per cent by 2020.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Minecraft map has gamers fighting virtual Great Fire of London

350 years after an unfortunate bakery conflagration snafu began at Thomas Farriner’s establishment in Pudding Lane, eventually wiping out most of the medieval City of London and destroying the homes of approximately 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants, the Museum of London recognised the landmark date with – what else? – a Minecraft recreation of the 17th-century City of London, enabling players to follow the path of the fire, attempt to extinguish it with authentic (read: virtually useless) firefighting equipment and hobnob in a blocky way with such well-known London residents as King Charles II and Samuel Pepys. You can also play as Thomas Farriner, although you’d be advised to keep away from TNT if you do, given his track record with highly flammable objects.

London Underground retires 90-year-old tech in line upgrades

On the subject of really old things, in the news this week was the announcement by London Underground that it is finally retiring a 90-year-old station box at Edgware Road, which at time of writing is still ensuring the safe running of trains on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines, just as it has since 1920. The news that London’s Tube still runs in part on relatively primitive technology first installed shortly after the end of World War One possibly wasn’t much of a revelation to anyone attempting to use the Northern Line on a daily basis, but it certainly showed that they really knew how to build things in those days. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Parents encourage interest in STEM but ill-equipped to help

Viewers of TV quiz shows like University Challenge will be familiar with the feeling. Jeremy Paxman fires off a question about something you vaguely remember from school science – it could be to do with the periodic table, the structure of the kidney or the electromagnetic spectrum – and you’re reasonably sure you can dredge up the answer from wherever it’s been sitting in your long-term memory for the couple of decades since you sat your last exam. Maybe you’re right more than half the time, but it’s the other half, when you’ve got it hopelessly wrong, that might make you pause when it’s your own children asking for help with their school work. It goes some way to explaining why, although the vast majority of parents acknowledge the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, so many are reluctant to give advice. Even for maths, which most will have studied at least to GCSE level or equivalent, more than a third of parents lack confidence; that figure rises to around half for biology and roughly two-thirds for physics and chemistry. At least energy company E.ON isn’t just highlighting the problem, but has launched a website to help parents and children “painlessly discover the world of STEM”. If you’re among the 46 of parents who admitted in the company’s survey that they would struggle with the sort of exam 13 and 14 year olds sit these days, perhaps you should give it a look.

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