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Notes from Stuttgart...

June 30 2009 PaulG 45

Last week was rather crazy…

Monday afternoon, I’m sitting in a canoe on a beautiful lake in the wilds of Ontario…

…Tuesday morning, I’m in Stuttgart for the Vehicle Dynamics Expo to introduce MapleSim 2 to the many automotive engineers that have converged from just about every European nation, and beyond, to learn about new technologies and methodologies for the design of vehicle chassis systems, including  suspensions, steering, tires (or tyres, depending where you come from), and braking systems. One hot topic of discussion is the rapid development of vehicle stability controllers, given that all new passenger vehicle designs must now by law include active stability control. This is very timely for us because we are able to show our hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) demonstration that includes a full-vehicle model developed in MapleSim and running on dSPACE and National Instruments PXI real-time platforms, with a MotoTron prototype controller interfaced to the vehicle model via a CANbus interface. I’ll describe this in more detail in a later blog post.

“Keep Austin weird” is probably the best civic slogan I have ever encountered. Austin, Texas is one of the most charming cities in the US. It’s the capital of the state of Texas and also the self-professed live music capital of the world. In addition, the University of Texas at Austin is the largest university in the US, and its influence on the technology sector has spun off a very vibrant high technology business center as well. This mix of government, the arts, academia, and technology is the quintessential recipe for a very dynamic, vibrant, and yes, weird (in a good way) community.

Ever since I filled out my university application papers, I’ve been faced with the cocktail party question, “So, why did you decide to study engineering?” It’s not surprising, of course, given the low number of women who choose to enter the fields of math or engineering. I’ve actually been asked this question so often that I have a stock answer which I can pull out without having to think about it: When I was considering my field of study, I was equally drawn to the arts and the sciences, but it made more sense to prepare myself to work
in a field where the jobs were. Engineering seemed a good fit, and still provided a sort of outlet for my creative impulses. Plus, it would be easier to pursue art and music as a hobby, rather than anything scientific; it would be much harder to find the resources to pursue any scientific interests on my own.  Why electrical engineering? I’d heard it involved more math, something I was drawn to.

I was fully expecting to write Part 2 of my postcard from China when a life-changing event interrupted my creative processes. My son Eric is thirteen and is about to complete grade 8. Math is not exactly his strongest subject but I blame it all on the fact that he has not started algebra in any substantial way yet… where math starts and that arithmetic nonsense stops.  In classic Eric style, he informed me that he had a math test the very next day and he absolutely needed to have a scientific calculator. “How did you do your homework so far then?”, I naively asked … “I don’t know … I faked it”.  After a moment of disbelief, with a sprinkling of anger, all mixed with a hint of pride that he got a B in math while “faking” the calculations, we got in the car and headed off to Staples.

It wasn’t that long ago that people were thinking that personal rocket jetpacks would be a reasonable means of transportation.  Unfortunately, we’re still a bit of a ways off on that dream.  That being said, we can still do a lot of cool things with rockets.

Rockets find their origins in ancient China.  The availability of black powder to propel projectiles was a precursor to the development of the first solid rocket.  The discovery of black powder by Ninth Century Chinese alchemists led to experiments in the form of weapons such as rocket-propelled fire arrows.

Maplesoft launched a new application center on its website on April 2, 2009. One objective of the update was to make it easier for visitors to find great content for both Maple and MapleSim. We wanted to make sure that all pages list the best applications first. While on many pages, including the home page, the MapleSim content page and the Tips & Techniques page, our editors can control the order of the applications, with almost 2000 applications, editors cannot rank all of the applications manually.

Lucky 13??...

June 03 2009 Paul 390

The Canadian Press reported last week the fortune of 13 women working on the 13th floor of an Edmonton bank tower winning a $50-million lottery jackpot. Combine this with the recently released version 13 of Maple and one might claim that notorious number 13's luck is changing.

Early in the development of Maple 13 the question of whether to use "13" was raised. From Apollo 13 to hotels with a missing floor, superstition surrounds this number.  Microsoft Office 2010 is slated to be released as version 14.0; the previous version was 12.0. Corel's WordPerfect Office marketed their version 13 as "X3" -- combining a roman numeral and decimal digit.

The great Chinese philosopher Laozi (aka Lao-tzu) once remarked that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. With my recent business trip to China, I feel that I have a blog posting of a thousand miles ready to burst onto my keyboard but for everyone’s sanity, I’ve chosen to deconstruct my experience and pick a few highlights that I’ll share over a couple of postings. This first one is on the people I’ve met.

The Great Shrinker...

May 14 2009 fkern 26

A Boston-area comedian by the name of Steven Wright used to say, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.”  Well, that tells you more about my sense of humor than about geography, but it’s true – it is a small world.  And it’s getting smaller and smaller.

What one usually means by “small” in this context is that it’s easier to get around.  Not just because travel is faster in the days of jet planes than it was in the days of caravans, but it’s because foreign places aren’t as, well, foreign as they used to be.
Just 30-ish years ago (ish is too many) I had to bring enough cash with me wherever I went to cover the needs of my trip because ATMs didn’t exist.  I couldn’t (well, wouldn’t) call home because it was horribly expensive.  That is if I could figure out how to use the phone.  I didn’t stay in touch with home at all because there was no email, no IM and no internet for Facebook or Twitter or anything else.

A few mornings ago, I drove to the office, bleary-eyed and still waiting for my first liter of coffee to kick in.  I parked, exited my car, and started walking to the entrance.  Someone a few meters ahead of me held the door open, but let go while I was still about a meter away.  Judging the closing speed of the door, I thought I had enough time to sneak in.  However, during the latter stages of its closing sweep, it suddenly sped up, and slammed shut. Not yet being suitably caffeinated, I uttered a small curse, damning the door and all its close mechanical relatives, and reached for my key fob.

Modelica is an open language for (lumped parameter) modeling and simulation and is generating a growing following, especially in Europe. Modelica is also at the heart of simulation tools like MapleSim. We are generally not making a big deal of that fact and as a result we have a regular stream of actual and potential customers asking us why we are not more vocal about our use of Modelica. Do we not believe in open...

It was twenty years ago in May that I started with Maplesoft (known then as Waterloo Maple Software) in a tiny office at 608 Weber Street North in Waterloo, Ontario. After having done my graduate work under Maple co-founder Gaston Gonnet, I was invited to join the fledgling company as Technical Manager and the first full-time employee.

The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) World Congress is an annual event in April that draws automotive engineers from around the world to Detroit to learn about and share thoughts on new techniques and technologies. Once again this year, Maplesoft was an active participant. This was a milestone event for us as it was the first SAE Congress where we could show off and fully demonstrate the potential of the MapleSim/Maple solution. Even in these trying times in the auto industry, our corner remains vibrant and very optimistic about the future.  In no particular order, here are some highlights.

I don’t think anyone would argue that the last few years have been pretty eventful. Modern industry is facing critical challenges, as design tasks become increasingly complex. Fortunately, we are seeing the development of new technologies that are allowing us to rise to the challenge. Techniques like rapid plant modeling for control applications, robust formulation techniques for automatic model generation, and the application of symbolic computation technology are accelerating the modeling process while ensuring correctness and sound scientific principles. The world of engineering is changing, and I’ve been fortunate to watch some of these developments first-hand.

When I was a toddler and learning about the concept of numbers, I used to play a simple game with my parents.  They’d think of a number, and I’d try to guess it.  They would shout “hotter!” if I were getting closer to the number and “colder!” if I was getting further away.  I’m still fascinated by number games, but now it’s Sudoku, the Countdown numbers game… or balancing my bank account at the end of the month.

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