Mea Culpa

September 09 2010 Tom 4 724
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A sign of a very successful period of work is the tally of how many email messages I’ve written that start with … “First, let me apologize for the delay in my response…” Yes, if you are the recipient of one of these notes from me, you’re probably more annoyed than pleased that I’m finding lots of very interesting things to fill up my ever-shrinking Outlook schedule. It’s been one heck of a summer, and I’m behind on countless things. One of these, is of course, blogging. I’ve been reminded by several people that I’ve been delinquent on this front and they are absolutely correct. It’s actually worse than that as there have been several key topics that I’ve wanted to report on that I simply have not been able to find the time or strength to write on. So to make up for it, the following are the highlights of some very cool things that have happened to me, to our company, to the global Maplesoft community, and of course, to my ever-more complex children.

Our new office in Germany

Maplesoft products have always had a strong following in Germany and in fact, this country was one of the first to adopt the original Maple product on a large scale in the early 90’s. It’s the land of Gauss, Bessel, and Hilbert.  Germany is, of course, one of the global centers of engineering innovation and accordingly, has been a very active region for new-generation modeling techniques including MapleSim. To improve our services to a quickly growing community of new customers (and the countless existing customers), we have established Maplesoft offices in Aachen and Munich. For those with engineering interests like me, this is comparable to a nerdy Disneyworld. Places like Munich, Stuttgart, Solingen, Dresden, and Jena are the equivalent to Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, EPCOT, etc. My first big activity on behalf of our new office was to attend ChassisTech 2010, an auto industry conference bringing together senior engineers from the chassis divisions (suspension, brakes, ride quality, etc.) of automotive OEMs. In many ways, it was an excellent first event for us and it was great to work with our new colleagues in this very exciting market.  

Members of our new office: Dr. Johannes Friebe and Thomas Richard

My first trip to Taiwan

When you’re an island of only 20 million, and have neighbours like China and Japan, it’s easy to be overlooked. Taiwan definitely has a groove of its own and I’m so glad that I finally made it there. I was expecting some variation of my experiences in China but I was pleasantly surprised by Taiwan’s very distinct balance of traditional Chinese dimensions with a very modern and global worldview. The air is clean, the traffic is manageable, and the street signs are good. And it’s green everywhere … it felt more like San Diego than any place in China I’ve ever been to. Industry-wise, I was also happy to discover just how active this region is in the area of control systems and general engineering modeling. I attended the annual conference for the Society of Instrumentation and Control Engineers (SICE) and through this meeting I met the “Who’s who?” of the Taiwanese control community. With strong specialization in specialty instruments, defense/aero, and even a growing automotive sector, Maplesoft is aptly represented by Cybernet Systems Taiwan (CST) a subsidiary of our parent company Cybernet Systems of Japan. 

Dusk approaches in Taipei. Famed Taipei 101 Tower in the distance.

Very successful MapleSim academic workshop

I’ve written an awful lot about the impact of MapleSim in industry but just as importantly, we’re experiencing very strong interest from the education community. Engineering professors around the world are interested in MapleSim’s unique ability to integrate theory (equations) with design (simulation and analysis). In August, over 20 keen professors representing eight leading universities from the US and Canada met at MacMaster University to brainstorm and share their first experiences with MapleSim in an educational context. For them, MapleSim was an opportunity to rethink and modernize many elements of engineering education. Key topics included the first year design course, the senior capstone design course, and application areas such as control and dynamics.  One of the most fascinating threads in the discussion is the shifting of design-oriented courses towards more rigorous, analytical, yet fully practical techniques. Many universities today are struggling with these design courses that tend to bring together theory, with industry-standard computing tools, and experimentation. Unfortunately, given the time constraints of a typical course, and the black-box nature of most engineering software, many end up teaching students, to be blunt, how to guess. The participants at the workshop felt that MapleSim offered a real chance to break through this barrier and establish a more effective balance among the main elements of engineering design. 

About 80% of the group that attended the McMaster MapleSim Workshop

Real engineering

I didn’t have a chance to take a real holiday this summer. Any spare time I took, unfortunately, was directed at a renovation in our house. My son Eric is moving to a new “pad” in our basement complete with full sound insulation to protect the rest of the family from his heavy-metal explorations. Because I am generally cheap, I decided to do this with a strange combination of my own work and a hired craftsman with renovation experience (also known as my friend’s unemployed brother). I’m happy to report that the renovation went well and Eric is now happily isolated in our home. I’m also very happy that through this hands-on exercise, I once again surprised myself at how much my theoretical education still imparted very practical skills that helped me stay sane through the renovation.  No, I have no idea how best to keep new walls square but when it came time to sort out new electrical building codes and materials, then properly wire up the circuits and resolve problems, I actually did have some understanding of the issues and was some help to the craftsman (I think). And when we had to dig a 3.5 meter ditch on the outside wall to seal a newly found crack, I knew exactly the statics models that would tell me how stupid I was for going into the ditch without proper structures … unfortunately, we were a bit short on time … I’m constantly amazed by the continuum of professionals that are required to make any complex project work. At Maplesoft, we tend to deal with the one extreme of very analytical if not theoretical, but they too depend on the very practical and sometimes hazardous work of those who may not have an engineering degree (or two or three) but have a crystal clear intuitive sense of how the world around them works. 

Hmm … I wonder if dirt is a Newtonian fluid?

So once again, please accept my apologies for this much delayed blog post. It’s been a very busy summer.

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