Rot and Rubbish

Once again to the back edge of week out and happily the weather beavers are in retreat. As I write my back porch is a comfortable 3 degF above the liquid -> solid dihydrogen oxide temperature, and I do not have to dread robing and venturing out to distribute seed for the dinosaur descendants and the tree mammals. So I may approach the task of tab pruning with a more positive attitude than hunkering down in my chair shivering from reduced heat content.

Speaking of content, I ran across an article [Link] on modeling the other day with an appealing statement:

“Current engineering practices create computer models that are numerical in nature to explore different design concepts and evaluate their performance. However, a more natural way to model a system is to use mathematics.”

As one who started his career in the pablum-hood of computational physics I rather made my place by advancing, and practicing, the idea that we do not bash the maths as much as possible and then go to the computer, which was the practice in the physics community in those days, but we bash it to a point where the transition to the computer is optimized to produce useful result.

Nowadays, the pendulum is on the other side of the pivot point. Modern practitioners labor under the perverse delusion that the simulation is the model, and do essentially no maths. Indeed, most of the younger ones are effectively acalculate – maths illiterate – beyond the most trivial of numerical methods, effectively the things in the first section of each chapter of my first undergraduate numerical maths text. And it had an odor even then.

No, I am not being a luddite and advocating a return to the days of electric (as opposed to electronic) calculators or slide rules and hand plotting, but I am bemoaning that too much of what is done today in the way of modeling for simulation is rubbish and rot. Actually, the article is not saying this either. Evidently even real maths folks, the few surviving, do not envision abandoning the digital computer. Rather, what is advanced is the idea of returning to the practice of enlightened tool use, of doing the right amount of maths before one starts to write code.

I doubt it will happen. Moaning and wringing hands does not change society unless it is augmented with some force of change. And enlightened attitude is not such a force.

Speaking of change, I note that my undergraduate alma mater is renovating ten Hoor hall. [Link] This information gave rise to some memory cogitation. Back in my day on the campus of the Black Warrior, ten Hoor was referred to as “tin whore”; it was the first new building I encountered, opening, I believe, in 1967. And, as might be expected from the nickname, it was widely disliked. The building, contrasting with the older styles of stone or brick with wood floors, was cinder block and linoleum. The din was horrendous at class change times. It reeked of public shule apathy. I had several courses in the building, notably anthropology/archaeology and philosophy and had to work hard to overcome the depression of the negative atmosphere. Simply, the building was not comfortable like the old building with exposed pipes under the celilings and squeaky board floors or the stinks and stains of long use. Comer, then the seat of maths, and Lloyd, the seat of chemistry then, and Galilee – physics – were especially comfortable. I hold to this day that this comfort was how I picked majors.

Now the tin whore is old enough to need renewal and the administration has wisely found temporary quarters that are even more horrible. Admirable. If you want a rat to be happy with a bad cage put them in worse for a while.

On the subject of bad cages, I note that Disney has hired the director of the Star Trek remake, an abysmal failure of GUI over grits, to make the next Star Wars movie. [Link] At least we know he cannot make it worse than it already is.

So now that I have been roundly offensive, selah.

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