Thursday, December 9, 2010

Engineered loss of resilience

Resilience is one of those common but slippery concepts that everyone knows what is meant but no one can define properly. One common notion is that engineering a system to resist small disturbances leads to a loss of resilience against larger disturbances. I had the misfortune to personally experience such a loss of resilience yesterday morning.
Our Cuisinart coffeemaker is a thing of beauty - stainless steel, black plastic trim, modern curvy lines. It has a really nice feature that lets you remove the thermal insulated pot while the coffee is brewing, if you are too desperate to wait for the drip cycle to finish. I regularly utilize the feature to gain an extra 30 seconds savoring that rich black magic that starts my day (yes I like coffee). So, the coffeemaker is resilient against short removals of the coffee pot - it continues to function as desired, even when the pot is briefly removed and then replaced.
However, if one is not fully awake, and perhaps a bit rushed, when preparing the morning jolt of java, one might forget to put the pot back into the brewer, and then leave the kitchen for a few moments. This is when that nice feature that protects against small disturbances leads to a greater catastrophe - not only does the coffee maker pour coffee onto the counter, but it does so by backing up and overflowing, carrying coffee grounds into every nook and cranny in the machine, under the toaster, etc. etc.
Thus, engineering a solution to a small disturbance ends up leading to a loss of resilience to greater disturbances.

1 comment:

  1. =^) Thanks for the laugh, Drew. Any ecological examples come to mind?