[Beowulf] Re: about clusters in high schools

Timothy W. Moore twm at tcg-hsv.com
Sun Jan 29 12:28:29 PST 2006

I did not know about the new standards/requirements.  Interesting

> > The ABET certification is now emphasizing more soft skills such as team 
> > work and presentation skills.  This leaves fewer hours for technical 
> > classes.
> A whole CLASS on "team work" or "presentation skills"?  As fundamental
> to an ENGINEERING curriculum?  God save us...  Or rather, let's hope
> all the engineers we import from India and China save us - from faulty
> automobiles, process plant disasters, collapsing bridges, etc. etc.

I use spreadsheets to track my financial records.  I have never pondered
any scientific application.

> > The simpler engineering analyses can be done with a spreadsheet and
> > fairly complicated work can be done with Matlab/Mathcad.  There are
> > plenty of commercial systems for CFD and FEA.  In the squeeze, the
> > schools have dropped programming.

I never said Matlab is not a programming language.  In fact, I know
nothing about it because I have never used it.  When in grad school
(well over 15 years ago), I remember there was a computer with what was
probably a very early version of Matlab installed...I never approached
it.  I opted for the computer with MSC/NASTRAN installed because that
was the software package that helped me design composite aircraft
pressure bulkheads, fuselage skins and window frames.  It may be
appropriate and I have nothing against students learning the package.  I
DID say that it is not a substitute for learning C or FORTRAN.  To my
knowledge (maybe I am naive and stupid), I have yet to see a CFD or
finite element code written in Matlab.  For example, I use a particle
code originally developed with its own visualization code. It was
archaic, slow and not user-friendly.  My programming abilities have
allowed me to change the plot format (as well as the numerics) to work
with commercial visualization tools that I use for most of my
applications allowing me to have a single interface.

> Since when is Matlab not a programming language?
> It is entirely appropriate that an undergraduate curriculum use a
> programming language like Matlab rather than C or Fortran.  Most
> engineers will NEVER program in C or Fortran (nor Pascal or Java)
> after college, and rightly so.
> Learning effective use of one or more higher level languages, on the
> other hand, would serve them EXTREMELY well.  A scripting language
> like Tcl, Perl, or Python would certainly be useful, but a math or
> statistically oriented language like Octave or R probably has better
> synergies with the rest of the engineering curriculum.
> The only improvement - and it's a big one - would be to teach with an
> Open Source language like Octave or R rather than a proprietary one
> like Matlab or S-Plus.  Among other advantages, that way the engineers
> can easily take all the code they wrote in school with them and USE
> it.
> Ages ago when I was a Process Engineer, I wrote a whole bunch of
> Bourne shell, sed, and Awk code (plus a touch of Perl later on), but
> although I knew some C (and was learning more), I never touched it
> once on the job, and never had any reason to either.  If I'd actually
> learned one or more of Tcl, Python, Perl, Matlab, Octave, S-Plus, or
> R, they DEFINITELY would have been useful to me.  C, Fortran, or Java,
> no.

My experience is slightly different.  I am not a full-time programmer
and can program in FORTRAN quite well.  I have written sophisticated
programs that allow scientists to explore the inner workings of complex
weapons systems involving thermodynamics, chemistry (reactive flows) and
fluid mechanics.  Maybe the run-of-the-mill engineer does not use or
need such tools.  I typically work on problems that either do not have a
solution or has never been studied which might explain why I have to
develop tools for my applications.

Before starting grad school, my son plans to spend an extra semester
taking programming classes as well as some US and world history (another
topic not stressed in an engineering curriculam). That is another topic
for another forum...just watch Jay Walking! :-)

In summary, I am not putting down any scientific package.  Mr. Vidal
asked about the benefits of such an undertaking.  I did not say all that
I wanted because I felt I was already saying too much...a point I wanted
to make is that computers and simulation have come a long way.  Humans
understand so many disciplines and have been able to implement their
understanding into software frameworks for CFD (Eulerian), Structural
(Lagrangian), Particle (Lagrangian) and Coupled (Lagrangian and
Eulerian) codes.  ALE is a mixture of all the above...except particle.

These codes are written in C, C++ and FORTRAN and simulate complex
physics.  These simulations, while not a replacement for testing, do
eliminate the need for so much trial and error.  They allow us to
eliminate most of the error and approach a final design before testing.
Some things can't be tested like WMD so we must rely on modeling and
simulation.  We can't always run a test, so we use the computer as a
virtual test range.  Some of the people with whom I work develop these
codes and I help them with alpha/beta testing.  These codes are written
in FORTRAN/C and run in parallel on large linux clusters.

Maybe I should have said that engineers desiring a career such as mine
should pursue such endeavors.

> My experience is that unless they're working as a full-time
> programmer, 95+% of engineers in industry don't and can't program
> anything but Microsoft Excel.  (And while a few of those build
> excellent spreadsheets, the majority quickly end up with
> unmaintainable messes as soon as they try anything that's not
> completely trivial.)  And that's CRIPPLING, even though most of them
> don't even know it.  I saw this effect in my own classmates, in
> myself, and with nearly ALL the engineers I worked with in industry.

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