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On Reflections

After 190 columns, it seems there’s still something to say

3 min read
On Reflections
Illustration: David Johnson

I’ve written a bimonthly Reflections column forIEEE Spectrum since January 1982. Every eight weeks I’ve faced a blank computer screen as a deadline approached and had little or no idea what I could write about. I thought that after the first dozen or so columns I would use up all the topics worthy of essays, but it seems that there have always been emerging subjects as well as evergreen ones. These columns have accompanied Spectrum through much of the half-century of publication that we celebrate this year. Looking back on this collection, I’ve tried to see how the columns have evolved and what this says about how engineers and engineering have changed.

In the early years I wrote columns about the joys in engineering, about the difficulties in sharing engineering work with friends and family, and how confessing to being an engineer stopped conversation at social gatherings. I was fascinated with how nonengineer friends claimed they could pick engineers out of a crowd of strangers by looks alone. I remembered being picked up by a limo driver at the airport. When I asked how he knew who I was, he gruffly replied, “I can always tell an engineer.” I did not consider it a compliment.

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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

His pivot from defense helped a tiny tuning-fork prevent SUV rollovers and plane crashes

11 min read
Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

And he had a problem.

The Cold War had ended, crashing the U.S. defense industry. And business wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. BEI needed to identify and capture new customers—and quickly.

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