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  • Weapons-makers: The case for defence
    THE star of the show was missing from the skies above the Farnborough air show, Europe’s biggest aerospace get-together, which began on July 14th. The F-35 fighter (pictured), which was to have made its first appearance outside America, is grounded after an engine fire. Not taking to the air when expected is a trait of Lockheed Martin’s jet. It is years behind schedule and stratospherically over budget. Its absence is an embarrassment for Lockheed but, then again, its presence might have reminded the defence officials shopping for kit at Farnborough of just the sort of complex and expensive programme that they want to avoid signing up to in future.Arms-makers are going through a lean period. Some big contracts, such as ones to make bombers, trainer aircraft and drones, are still up for grabs in America, the world’s biggest spender. But it and other rich-world governments, struggling to curb their deficits, are trying ever harder to get the most bang for the fewest bucks. The revenues of 17 of the top 20 American weapons-makers shrank in 2013. American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had helped to push global spending to a record $1.7 trillion in 2008. Since then...
  • Cabling Africa’s interior: Many rivers to cross
    FOR an hour it seemed as if Liquid Telecom’s grand scheme to bring fast internet access to Zambia and other landlocked parts of Africa might be thwarted by a swarm of bees. It had been no small challenge to bring its fibre-optic cable this far—from Cape Town, near the southern tip of Africa, to Chirundu on the Zambezi river (pictured) which marks the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.It had taken two years to negotiate the various permits required for Liquid to take its cable across the Limpopo from South Africa to Zimbabwe. A further 18 months of talks for permission to run the cable along one of the two bridges at Chirundu had come to nought. The network in Zambia was ready to be switched on. Then someone suggested suspending the cable between two disused electricity pylons on either side of the river, which would not require any special permits. The cable was strung across the Zambezi but was almost washed away by its powerful current. And then the rigger hired to clamp the cable to both pylons came across a beehive at the top of one of them.Even the hardiest of riggers would struggle to fix a cable to a tall pylon while being stung by a swarm of African bees...