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Shrink The Targets

We can’t defend everything. So we should take steps that protect against both terrorism and natural disasters

8 min read
Illustration by Brian Stauffer
Illustration: Brian Stauffer

Civilized society is at far greater risk from natural disasters and industrial accidents than from terrorism, yet we behave as if it were the other way around. We spend billions on unproven technical remedies for imagined terrorist threats while skimping on known methods of mitigating the effects of hurricanes, floods, and toxic-waste spills, which occur with remarkable regularity and predictability. We should concentrate instead on defending against these more frequent and disastrous threats. By thus identifying our worst vulnerabilities and reducing them, we would reduce the size of the terrorists’ targets as well.

Our present efforts depend on bureaucratic organizations, but we should not expect too much from them. Two decades ago, in a study of industrial accidents, I sought to show that any organizational solution to a human problem that is complex enough to be interesting will necessarily be imperfect. Stated that way, my assertion might have seemed unobjectionable. Yet I noticed that people would always ask why no one had prevented a particular problem—typically the last one in a chain, hence the “proximate” cause of the disaster. For example, in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in 1986, the blame was placed on those who failed to take into account the chilled O-ring that was the proximate cause of the explosion. Similarly, the company that neglected to trim tree branches in Ohio shouldered the blame for the shorted power lines that started a cascade of failures that plunged much of the eastern United States and Canada into darkness in the summer of 2003.

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Poll: Would You Want to Work a Shorter Week?

Weigh in with your thoughts on a four-day workweek

2 min read
Person holding a giant sized pencil standing next to a giant sized calendar with days crossed out to show a four-day workweek.

When I worked for a company in Texas a few years ago, one of the benefits I enjoyed was a four-and-a-half-day workweek. The system enabled my colleagues and me to run some personal errands, see our doctors, and pick up our kids from school, among other activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic required many companies to adopt a flexible work schedule to keep their operations open. Many allowed their employees to work from home full time. Nowadays plenty of those employers are trying to persuade their workers to return to the office full time, but they are facing some resistance.

One solution some companies are trying is a four-day, 32-hour workweek for the same pay.

​Does your company offer a four-day workweek?

Would you like to work a four-day workweek?

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Xiaomi’s Humanoid Drummer Beats Expectations

Solving drum-playing helped quest for whole-body control

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot sits at an electronic drum kit

When Xiaomi announced its CyberOne humanoid robot a couple of months back, it wasn’t entirely clear what the company was actually going to do with the robot. Our guess was that rather than pretending that CyberOne was going to have some sort of practical purpose, Xiaomi would use it as a way of exploring possibilities with technology that may have useful applications elsewhere, but there were no explicit suggestions that there would be any actual research to come out of it. In a nice surprise, Xiaomi roboticists have taught the robot to do something that is, if not exactly useful, at least loud: to play the drums.

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Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Modeling and simulation in Simulink and Simscape

1 min read
Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Design and simulate a fuel cell system for electric mobility. See by example how Simulink® and Simscape™ support multidomain physical modeling and simulation of fuel cell systems including thermal, gas, and liquid systems. Learn how to select levels of modeling fidelities to meet your needs at different development stages.