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Heck of a Recovery, New Orleans

As the 10 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the tragedy in the Gulf Coast draws near, I have been reflecting on the dozen-plus post-2005 trips that I have made to New Orleans. Each trip was made in concert with the 10-year "Covenant to Serve" that my University of Pennsylvania students and I forged before the floodwaters had fully receded and while dead bodies were still being discovered in the rubble. All told, more than 1,000 Penn students have contributed more than 45 person-years of service to the Crescent City's human, financial and physical recovery process (defining a person-year of service as 35 hours a week for 52 weeks a year). Their service is chronicled in the brief story and video A 10-Year Covenant to Serve on the Penn Arts & Sciences website.

In addition to radiating pardonable (I hope) pride in what the Penn students and alumni have contributed, there are at least five governance lessons about the disaster and the post-Katrina recovery saga that I believe are worth teaching and preaching. 

The first lesson is that what happened in 2005 was a "governance disaster," not a "natural disaster." You can call what happened a natural disaster only if...

Study: Here is Why You Never Know What Day It Is

Do you find yourself forgetting which day it is during the monotony of mid-week? A new study suggests this is because during the week, you’re neither stressed nor excited.

Research published last week in PLOS ONE found that people were more likely to be confused about what day of the week it was on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and more likely to have a myriad of positive and negative associations with Monday and Friday, more so than other days of the week.

Led by University of Lincoln psychologist David Ellis, the team conducted three surveys of more than 1,200 people overall. In one study they showed that it took twice as long for participants to guess the right day of the week on Wednesdays than on Mondays and Fridays, with Tuesdays and Thursdays falling in between.

Mean response time when participants were asked what day of the week it was.(Courtesy of Rob Jenkins)

The study shows that this could be related to the richness of our associations with each day of the week. People feel more extremely about Mondays and Fridays (negative for Monday and positive for Friday) and associate them with more events, activities, and feelings...

Why Defense Can’t Buy Cyber Stuff Fast Enough

Cyber warfare has arrived: the Defense Department is under attack, and national security is at stake. Yet in a field defined by rapid growth, DOD arms itself at the same pace with which it buys major weapons, an acquisition cycle of seven to 10 years. The “arsenal of democracy” has already provided the tools for hastening this process in the form of agile methods. The Pentagon has been reluctant to adopt different methods for software than it uses for other acquisitions. But unless it does so, it will lose its edge.

One need only consult the headlines to recognize that cyberattacks are a daily occurrence; attacks on prominent public and private institutions are so common that they barely register. But even if these headlines have lost their shock value, our networks remain vulnerable.

What is worse, far from being immune to cyberattacks, DOD faces greater threats because it is such an attractive target. Not only is it the world’s dominant military force, but it is probably more dependent on information technology than any other military. Fully 90 percent of its weapons systems’ functionality depends on software. This makes DOD a low cost/high reward target that is irresistible to...

Social Skills May Be the Key to Career Success

What does it take to get ahead in today’s job market? While it might seem like specialized technical skills are the only way to compete in an increasingly difficult economy, that’s not the case. To really get ahead, what a worker needs is social skills.

How’s that? Over the next two decades, nearly half of U.S. jobs may become obsolete due to automation, onerecent study found. What are workers to do? Become more human, suggests David J. Deming of Harvard. Deming argues that social skills have already become increasingly important in recent decades, especially for those looking for high-wage, competitive positions.  

According to Deming,  positions that require both cognitive and social skills have shown more wage growth in the past few decades than those that require high-levels of mathematical or analytical training but little social prowess. And those wage gains hold true across all levels of employment.

In the future, the jobs that are least likely to be automated increasingly are those that demand lots of interaction with coworkers or clients, not just the performance of rote analytical tasks. These jobs also call for the ability to perform innately human exercises—like pondering another person...

Meet Ralph and Alice, NASA’s Power Couple

With the spectacular success of the New Horizons mission to Pluto in July, we were treated to yet more of NASA’s intriguing terms, most notably Ralph and Alice, named after the lead characters in the popular 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners. Ralph is the New Horizons mission color-imager and infrared mapping spectrometer, which works with Alice, the ultraviolet spectrometer.

How does NASA come up with the names of its missions, equipment, probes, and programs? It seems commonly accepted that government does not value creativity, imagination, innovation, disruption and risk-taking. Perhaps NASA is the exception that proves the rule. Its most visible terms are intelligent, pictorial, playful, distinctive, imaginative and any combination of these qualities. Databases kept by Govlish, which is developing an online tool to decode government language, now encompass more than 30,000 federal terms. While many are spelled out in 20 or more meanings, we can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is only one “Ralph” and one “Alice.” 

Most importantly, NASA terms are memorable. In an age that burdens us with information overload, drowns us in data, and talks in sound bites, “memorable” has high value. In short, NASA terms engage us and...