Posts Tagged ‘E&T’

Book review: Dear Data – Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec

September 2, 2016

By Jade Fell 

Dear Data UK jacket

Particular Books, September 2016, 291 pp, ISBN 978-1-846-14906-1, £20, Flexibound

When they first met at an arts festival, Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec realised that they had been living oddly parallel lives:. Both were residing in a foreign country – Giorgia had moved from her native Italy to New York and Stefanie, originally from Colorado, was living in London.  They were the same age were both only children and, most importantly, they were both obsessed by data.

Stefanie and Giorgia have spent their lives collecting and organising information from the world around them. As a child, Stefanie delighted in filling in scorecards with her father at baseball games, while Giorgia collected and organised anything she could get her hands on, from buttons to small stones. As they got older, they both realised that they were collecting data and went on into careers as visual designers, creating data illustrations.

From a chance visit at an arts festival, Stefanie and Giorgia decided to try and get to know each other by sharing data. Having only met once, Stefanie and Giorgia began exchanging postcard-sized letters that described what had happened to them each week, but instead of writing what had happened, they drew it. The resulting project spanned a year, 52 weeks and covered 52 themes, from smiling at strangers to smells and sensations. Each week, Stefanie and Giorgia would collect, collate and share data with one another, often containing information about the most private aspects of their lives such as touch,  envy and desire.

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Dear Data is an amalgamation of the project that unfolded from the chance meeting of two strangers who went on to become intimate friends, revealing oddly personal pictures of each woman’s life. Often, aspects of life that would not necessarily be revealed through the simple act of writing can be seen through data. By looking at each other’s infographics each week, Stefanie and Giorgia got to know each other, noticing themes and patterns in each other’s drawings. The resulting works tell a story about the person behind the data. We learn that Giorgia is a control freak, and Stefanie enjoys more than the occasional drink and apologises far too often.

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Dear Data will make you pause and think about what data can reveal about a person. It makes you realise that you don’t need an app to tell you anything new about yourself. Every one of us is a walking data collection, from the money in our bank account to the calories we consume in any given day. Each time we glance at the clock on our office wall, apologise, or take a walk, we are inadvertently adding to a huge data collection that is our lives. This book is a wonderful illustration of just how data-heavy the average person is. As a project, an exhibition and a book, Dear Data is fascinating, beautiful and a treat for the eyes and mind.

Earth-like planet #ProximaB found orbiting #ProximaCentauri – an annotated infographic

September 1, 2016

Scientists have found clear evidence of an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri – the nearest star to our sun. The rocky world, named Proxima b, lies within its star’s habitable zone, meaning liquid water could exist on its surface, and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the solar system.

E&T news reported the full details of the Proxima b discovery earlier this week.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.


Right, that’s it, I’m leaving the country – #Brexit triggers EU citizenship surge – an annotated infographic

August 31, 2016

While the long-term effects of Brexit remain unknown, one immediate after-effect is becoming clear: a lot of people are seriously thinking about leaving the country. Or at the very least, becoming a citizen of another country.

In the two months since 51 per cent of British voters chose to quit the European Union, embassies and high commissions in London have reported increases in passport and citizenship applications.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.


US company in massive EU tax avoidance shocker! #Apple

August 30, 2016

Everyone’s favourite future-facing tech titan Apple Inc is facing a whopping €13 billion EU tax bill (plus interest!), after it was decided that the extremely favourable (at least for Apple) tax conditions set by Ireland breached EU rules. Funny that.

The EU ruling decreed that Ireland had illegally slashed Apple’s tax bill over several decades. It is the largest penalty in a three-year EU crackdown on so-called ‘sweetheart’ tax deals. We don’t know about you, but of all the sweethearts we’ve ever had in our lives, not one of them slipped us €13 billion.

E&T news covered the story of Apple’s tax shelter in Ireland in full earlier today.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.



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

August 26, 2016

Friday 26 August 2016

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Facial recognition tech to combat terrorism in Germany
Instagram users analysed by algorithm for signs of depression

Some of E&T’s social media followers were uncompromising in their reaction to the news that Germany is even considering using facial-recognition technology to try and prevent terrorist attacks at airports and railway stations. “Facial recognition is the final nail in the coffin to freedom,” commented one. “They can F off if they think they are scanning my face,” a more forthright tweeter agreed. A lot of this is down to an understandable mistrust of machines, whose false positive findings people worry will be hard to argue with. It’s the ‘computer says no’ (or in this case ‘yes’) effect; by the time you’ve been taken to one side, questioned on the basis that a computer thinks you’re a known terrorist and then convinced authorities you’re not, you’ve probably missed the flight and a day’s been ruined. There’s also the suspicion that without resorting to plastic surgery the same thing could happen all over again. We just don’t have the same worries when it’s humans doing the surveillance. London’s Metropolitan Police have employed a team of ‘super recognisers’ for a while who scan CCTV footage for persistent offenders and there’s little fuss made about that. More sinister, to me at least, is the idea that an algorithm thinks it can tell whether I’m depressed by analysing the colours in photographs I post online. Surprise, surprise – researchers have found a correlations between people whose pictures use less vibrant hues and a tendency to be depressed. So next time you consider applying an arty filter that turns your holiday beach snaps into something more Goth-friendly, maybe think again.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Edible batteries pave the way for ingestible medical devices

Having watched an excellent BBC 3 documentary “Dirty Secrets of Clean Eating” last night, I wonder whether the new “ingestible” (as opposed to “excretable”) battery could qualify as “clean” nutrition? The news story does not reveal whether the battery is going to be low-calorie, low-carb and gluten-free, or – on the contrary – rich in calories and carbs and stuffed with gluten. I am worried that the latter guess may prove closer to reality, since as all mini-electronic devices (be they embedded or ingested) go, the new battery must contain at least one chip, and chips (whether made of potatoes, or of silicon – no matter), as we know, are not particularly “clean” or nutritious.

Smart window material efficiently blocks heat and light

Just one quick question, based mostly on reading the headline rather than the full news story: if the new “smart” window can “efficiently” prevent light and heat from entering the building (which to me sounds like not a very nice perspective, particularly during European winter), can it be made even “smarter” and start blocking fresh air too? No light, no heat, no air – what an amazingly “smart” window that would be! The only problem it will be impossible to patent, for a very similar product has been in existence for centuries. It is called “a thick stone wall”. Please correct me if I am wrong, which I probably am.

Machine gun-toting robots launched by Iraq to fight ISIS

The phrase I want to focus on in this news story is “Russian combat robots” which to me sounds like your average special forces fighters – humans programmed to kill and maim, be they Russian or other. Yet, having spent half of my life in the former Soviet Union, I cannot help associating “Russian combat robots” with the so-called cannon fodder, i.e. young and untrained recruits sent to perish in their thousands by their commanders during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978-1980.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Airlander 10 airship crashes during Bedfordshire test flight

The Airlander 10 airship, the world’s largest aircraft, has crashed at the Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire on Wednesday during its second test flight after a UK revamp. After pretty much everyone in Britain has spent time finding the concept of the ‘flying bum’ pretty amusing, I actually felt quite sad for the poor aircraft to have had an accident so quickly into its flight. The 92m aircraft, which combines the features of a helicopter and an airship, was damaged during the accident, reportedly in a failed landing where the cockpit took most of the damage. I suppose everything should be tested…including crash landings.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Airlander 10 airship crashes during Bedfordshire test flight

The Flying Buttocks crashed during its second test flight. What a bummer. Get it? Do you think it made weird, farting noises because it was damaged during a so-called ‘failed landing?’ Like a balloon parping when it gets deflated. Just 1,000 times bigger. That’s a lot of wind.

Most drone accidents due to technical faults, not users, study finds

Broken communication links between the pilot and the aircraft have been blamed for drone related accidents. According to the University of Melbourne down under, it’s technical problems that lead to drone crashes, not the operators. Apparently 64 per cent were technical problems. That leaves 46 per cent of hooligans with their flying machines getting into mischief for the past decade.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Sabotage-proof chip checks against Trojan infection

It’s rare these days for chips to be manufactured by the same companies that design them, so it’s at least theoretically possible for a dodgy foundry to insert a trojan that won’t show up in post-fabrication testing. Researchers in New York have now developed an external unit that could be manufactured separately and would verify the results of the primary chip. Anything that adds another layer of security to healthcare products or equipment used in critical infrastructure has to be a good idea.

Mars rover design unveiled by Chinese space agency

China’s space agency has released the first images of a rover it plans to send to Mars within the next five years to study the Red Planet’s soil, atmosphere, water and ice distribution, and other physical attributes. China hopes to launch the mission in July or August 2020, but the delayed European ExoMars rover is aiming for the same launch window, so we could see an international race to get there first.

Airlander 10 airship crashes during test flight

Those of us who worked on E&T’s predecessor magazine used to joke about ‘the curse of IEE Review’ whenever something failed soon after we had written about it. I remembered that when I read about Airlander’s unfortunate close encounter with a power cable.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, reporter
Killer robot electrocutes lionfish in Atlantic to save ecosystem

Tuna stocks are low, the population of wild salmon is declining – maybe we all shall eat lionfish instead? They say it’s tasty and there is a lot of it, especially where it should not naturally be (thanks, humans) and it’s messing up coral ecosystems and destroying native fish population. An international research team is now testing an ingenious method of killing lionfish with a remotely controlled robot that takes advantage of the creature’s natural gullibility. “Lionfish are not naturally afraid of anything, so they swam in and around it,” said John Rizzi, director of US-based non-profit RISE, which developed the robot, when describing the first tests. What happens is that the robot places its two electrocuting paddles around the patient lionfish and then strikes. I know that pest is pest, but that reminds me a bit of some Nazi extermination camp practices – just go have a shower, no big deal.

Earthquake-proofing cities with engineered materials

Too late for Italy and the more than 240 people who have died in the 6.2 earthquake this week but this research brings hope that in future people living in tectonically active regions could sleep without fear. Engineers believe that entire cities could be protected from devastating seismic waves using special shields made of the so called metamaterials. These engineered materials have properties not seen in nature. Metamaterials are known from photonics, where they alter optical waves and make objects appear invisible. Similarly they could modify the powerful Earth shakes into harmless vibrations.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Autonomous octobot is first 3D-printed entirely soft robot

The octopus is frequently hailed as a wonder creature, its mysterious agile yet skeleton-less body inspiring all manner of new scientific thinking. The latest brains turned on by the octopus’ unique form have come up with a 3D-printed soft robot – nicknamed the ‘octobot’ – that could herald a new generation of completely soft, untethered autonomous machines. Where previously electric power and control systems, such as batteries and rigid circuit boards, have kept soft-bodied robots either tethered to an off-board system or rigged with hard components, this little octobot could revolutionise how humans interact with machines.

Plastic membrane offers super-fast electric vehicle charging

Electric vehicles are getting a lot of government and private sector attention these days, in tandem with autonomous vehicles. It seems inevitable that the two technologies will converge and rise together, as it’s highly unlikely that by the time autonomous vehicles become commonplace on the world’s roads – within as little as 10 years – that fossil fuels will still be the predominant propulsion system for their engines. The primary movers behind autonomous vehicles are also the types of companies keen to embrace cleaner, greener engine alternatives – e.g. the Google X team’s fleet of electric autonomous vehicles and Tesla cars, with their electric engines and autonomous AutoPilot mode. Battery charging and charge retention are accordingly key areas of research in this field, with new findings coming thick and fast from the world’s laboratories. The latest finding, from Ohio State University (OSU) researchers, concerns a thin plastic membrane that stops rechargeable batteries from discharging when not in use and allows for rapid recharging – two holy battery grails in one. The technology controls the way charge flows inside a battery and was inspired by how living cell membranes transport proteins in the body.

Book review: Telescopes, Test-Tubes and Theories – A Scientific Journey

August 24, 2016

By William Harrop

From the belief that maggots simply sprung from dead flesh to the example of Newton plunging a needle into his eye to see if pressure caused us to see colours, this book perfectly encapsulates the absurdity and eccentricity of scientific history.

The Upright ThinkersIn The Upright Thinkers, Leonard Mlodinow takes you on an informative, engaging journey through the 200,000 years of human existence, examining the different scientific super-stars and theorems at each milestone between the establishment of the first civilisations in Mesopotamia and the ‘Quantum Revolution’ of the 20th century. Studded with moments of hilarity and light-hearted anecdotes, the author crafts a books that never loses the attention of the reader, no matter the complexities of the subject matter, by refraining from bombarding us with the bravado of jargon, numbers and formulas one would expect from most science books.

Mlodinow paints a detailed picture of each of the scientific greats since the very first sparks of civilisation, from Pythagoras to Hawking, skilfully fleshing out their characters beyond the formulas and achievements for which they are remembered, including the flaws, which are often glossed over by history. Misconceptions of these figures are brushed aside and replaced with equally intriguing truths – for example, the fiction of an apple falling on Newton’s head is replaced with information on his reclusive and obsessive nature, which drove him to prick his own eye with a needle for an experiment.

As an equally fascinating sidetrack to the book’s subject, the writer effortlessly brings in analogies to his life, including his time writing for the cult classic TV show Star Trek and a period spent working with the illustrious Stephen Hawking. Coupled with this, he also grounds the highbrow science the book discusses by talking about his father, and his amusing way of looking at science through the eyes of an orthodox Jew. Moreover, his father also provides a sobering testament to the harrowing struggle the Jewish people endured during the 20th century, as a Warsaw Jew during the Second World War.

Central to the book is the notion that all scientific theories are relatively ephemeral. They exist only until a better one can replace them – Newton has been replaced, Einstein has been replaced, and soon, perhaps even Stephen Hawking’s theories will be replaced, such is the nature of the ever-turning wheel of scientific progress.

Mlodinow translates his fluently in-depth knowledge of all realms of science into addictive narrative, interwoven with poignant, at-times gritty and sometimes comical anecdotal aids. So, if you’re looking for a book on scientific theories that isn’t denser than dark matter or as hard to comprehend as string theory, The Upright Thinkers is the perfect book for you.

‘The Upright Thinkers’ by Leonard Mlodinow is available in paperback from Penguin (£9.99, ISBN 9780141981017).

Win! Book review and giveaway: War and Technology A Very Short Introduction – Alex Roland

August 3, 2016

By Jade Fell 


Oxford University Press, October 2016, ISBN 978-0-19-060538-4, £7.99, Paperback

‘Humans were born armed’ is the premise to the next of our Very Short Introduction series of reviews, War and Technology, which seeks to trace the combined history of, you guess it – war and technology. Some of you may take issue with the statement – how can a human be born armed? It is interesting to note however, that weapons formed from natural material and used to defend, hunt and fight, have been around before the first Homo sapiens, back to the time of archaic proto-humans. In the 19th century, Jurist Sir Henry Maine famously commented that “War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention.” The same, in fact, is true of technology. For as long as humanity has existed, we have strived to manipulate the world around us to achieve our means –including the creation  and use of weaponry. In effect, the use of weaponry and other military technologies is intrinsic to human nature.

Throughout history, factors such as politics, economics, ideology and culture have had a notable effect on the development of warfare, but no other single variable even comes close to the effect of technology. The changes of warfare patterns,, from the Stone Age right up  to the Atomic Age can each be comprehended by the development of new technologies, such as early stone axes of prehistoric man and nuclear warheads, which now lay dormant on the shores of every developed nation. The so-called ‘principles of war’ – objective, offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuverer, unity of command, security, surprise and simplicity – can be applied and understood throughout history, but none can explain the evolution of technology. As author Alex Roland points out, Alexander the Great may have conquered Afghanistan and gone on to be remembered as one of history’s greatest captions, but he would be baffled and bemused by satellites, aeroplanes and explosives. The fundamentals of war are timeless, but technology is incessantly changing.

In War and Technology A Very Short Introduction, Roland attempts to follow the history of these two subjects and open the inquisitive reader’s eyes to the complex growth and collaboration of these two innately human phenomena. Exploring warfare from land, sea, air and even space, while delving into the realm of cyber warfare, psychological warfare and the war on terror, Roland presents an analysis that, although largely western, is universally applicable in concept. Whether your interest is in war or technology, this book is sure to grab your attention and enrich your mind.

If this review has piqued your interest and you are keen to find out more then you will be pleased to know that we have ten brand new copies of the book to give away to select readers of E&T. Want to know more? Head on over to our Rafflecopter giveaway for further details, and to enter.

Terms and conditions
This giveaway is open to UK entrants only and runs until 09/08/2016 at midnight. There are  then books available. There is no cash alternative and the prize is not transferable. Employees of the IET and their families may not enter.
A winner will be picked at random and contacted via email. If they do not respond within 3 days, another winner will be picked. Entrants’ details will be used only in connection with this competition and not retained or passed to any third parties.
E&T, as the promoter, reserves the right to cancel or amend the giveaway and these terms and conditions without notice.

Book review: Head in the Cloud: The Power of Knowledge in the Age of Google – William Poundstone

August 3, 2016
Head in the Cloud_9781786070135

Oneworld Publications, September 2016, ISBN 978-178-607-013-5, £12.99, Paperback

It is often cited that we are living in an information age. Gone are the days of trawling through text books and library archives to find the material to complete your latest homework assignment. The internet possesses all the information you could ever need – and then some. Pick up your smart phone or connect to your computer and you have a wealth of data available at your fingertips. While it’s true that it is incredibly easy to look up facts on Google, it’s not so easy to remember any of them. Some have argued that having such a wealth of information available to us is making us stupid.

In his new book, Head in the Cloud: The Power of Knowledge in the Age of Google, William Poundstone turns this theory on its head. Being better connected doesn’t necessarily mean we are better informed and the internet is not making us stupid. Rather, it is making us less aware of what we do not know. We’re living, Poundstone argues, in the golden age of rational ignorance. People are more interested in the lives of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West than bothering to learn who painted the Mona Lisa and millennials use acronyms such as BTDTGTTAWIO (been there, done that, got the t-shirt and wore it out), but are unable to recall the single word uttered by the raven in Edgar Allen Poe’s famed short horror story. So what does being well informed actually mean? Does it really matter?

Speak to any self-proclaimed gamer and you will likely tap into a wealth of information that is missing from the mind of the average Joe. Perhaps you don’t have a clue what processor lurks within your PC, or how to overclock the latest Nvidia graphics card, and why would you? Unless gaming happens to feature high on your list of priorities, you’ll probably never need to know this random information. Equally, some of you reading this review will have got through life just fine without ever having known the catchphrase of Poe’s raven. If someone was to ask you who invented post-it notes, what year Tinder was developed, or what the fastest land mammal on earth is, you could retrieve the answer from the cloud within a fraction of a section of clicking ‘search’ on Google. This poses the question – ‘What’s the point of knowing anything when facts are so easy to look up?’

Interestingly, it turns out that the benefits of staying well-informed stems much further than being everyone’s go-to teammate in the monthly pub quiz. In Head in the Cloud, Poundstone reports results of internet surveys analysing the rate of public knowledge, with outcomes suggesting that better informed individuals are, on the whole, healthier, happier and quite significantly wealthier. Not only this, but factual knowledge is heavily correlated with personality traits, including political opinion. Did you know, for example, that those who are able to locate a country on a map are less likely to be in favour of invading it? This is just the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to ill-informed voters.

Head in the Cloud is hilarious, humbling and brutally honest and will likely make you doubt yourself, and everyone around you. This book is not merely a declaration of the woes of an ill-informed public, it also serves to highlight the benefits of broadening your horizons, offering insight and advice on how to best use todays media to stay informed. If you take only one thing away from this book, let it be the knowledge that there is no such thing as irrelevant information and that you could probably benefit from a little more time spent with an atlas, encyclopaedia and Oxford English dictionary.

Book review: This Book Thinks You’re A Scientist

August 1, 2016

By Louise Fox


Thames and Hudson, August 2016, ISBN 987-0-50-06508-13, £8.95, Paperback

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a child, excited by science for the first time again? Well now you can with the science museum’s newest release ‘This Book Thinks You’re A Scientist’. The interactive book explores seven key scientific areas, including force and motion, electricity and magnetism, earth and space, light, matter, sound, and mathematics.

Through a series of creatively and quirkily illustrated prompts, readers are encouraged to engage in their own hands-on experiments and explore science by questioning everything. It’s a great way for your children to spend the afternoon, out in the sun, experimenting on things you probably never thought they would: creating a new robot language, taking instant photographs with their eyes, making water freeze in seconds and styling their hair with static electricity – easy, fun experiments that can be done anywhere.

To prove this, the E&T writers decided to test a couple of the experiments out and you’d be surprised how easily pleased they are this book can definitely be for adults too! Seeing grown men and women getting excited by the idea of frozen fizzy drinks in the hot weather can really make your day. It’s actually really easy to do as well. The carbon dioxide in fizzy drinks makes them pretty hard to freeze properly, but freeze one for around two hours before unscrewing the lid and the carbon dioxide will escape, and without the gas, the liquid freezes – cue instant fizzy slushy!

It was the little experiments that seemed to make our writers the happiest, estimating how many umbrellas it would take to keep the 305ft tall Statue of Liberty dry from a rainstorm, or how many elephants we could fit into the IET building comes as a welcome distraction from the world of work. There are these so many more experiments like them in this book. It’s pretty basic science, but each page also has a ‘how it works’ box, explaining how the science behind the fun experiments – perfect for children looking for something to do but also for parents wanting to engage restless minds over the summer holidays.

Similar to Keri Smith’s ‘Wreck This Journal’, the book invites you to rip out pages and challenges you to complete tasks based around science before explaining how they works, applying fun activities to real-life situations. Each section focuses on an open-ended question or activity, with space on the page to write, draw or interact with the book before recording findings. While the book itself is aimed at children, the experiments are things that could be fun for the whole family this summer.

Smoking vs Vaping – the good and the bad – two contrasting infographics

July 27, 2016

According to our good friends at, smoking costs the UK’s economy £12.9billion a year. That’s a staggering 11-figure sum (12, 900, 000, 000)!

With 2.8 million people in the UK known to vape, is vaping the more virtuous option? What of the rumours and fears of potential nosebleeds and the vaper’s cough?

What are the relative merits and pitfalls of smoking and vaping?

  • 60 per cent of smokers find it hard to last a whole day without smoking
  • 454,700 NHS hospital admissions are attributable to smoking
  • Cigarettes are the single most traded item on the planet with one trillion sold from country to country each year
  • The NHS found 2 of 3 people using e-cigarettes quit successfully in 2015
  • Most e-liquids only have 4 ingredients compared to 7000 in cigarettes
  • Some of the ingredients in e-liquids are found in medical products such as inhalers

Consider these two contrasting infographics, detailing the details of smoking and vaping.

Naturally, there is also a third way: not smoking either.

Click on either graphic for an expanded view.