The Recent Workshop on Advanced Nonlinear FEM at COEP

For the couple of days that just passed by, i.e. on April 9 and 10, I attended a two-day Workshop on Advanced Nonlinear FEM at COEP [^]. It was organized jointly by Pro-Sim, Bangalore [^] and COEP’s Mechanical Engineering Department. However, quite a few people from some other organizations also came in to deliver their talks. These included managers or senior engineers in charge of the CAE departments in Eaton, Mahindras, Tata Motors, CDAC, and others. The new Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pune, Dr. Shevgaonkar, also dropped by for the inaugural function.

BTW, this being COEP, there never was any question of their inviting me to give a lecture/talk as a part of any workshop such as this. I suppose that they would consider it as compromising their [unstated] standards of quality. However, I did pay their registration fees, and attend the event as a regular attendee, just to see what all things were being discussed during the event.

One part of my interest in attending this workshop concerned learning. I have never been taught FEM in a class-room, or for that matter by anyone in person as such—I’ve picked up all my FEM on my own, by going through books and writing my own code, and then also by interacting via blogs/emails. (For example, see my grappling of the issue of banding and discontinuity of the derivatives, on iMechanica, here [^], something which I took complete care of soon later on, way before beginning teaching my FEM courses at COEP and CDO/MERI….) Anyway, given that I had never sat in an FEM classroom, I thought that it might be fun to do so, for a change. Another part of my interest in the workshop touched on my professional interests. I have myself begun conducting courses on fundamentals of FEM, and I wanted to compare the cost-to-benefit ratio for my course offering vis-a-vis others’.

Overall, I would say that it was only a barely acceptable deal at Rs. 4,000/- for the two days.  Of course, it certainly was worth more than a thousand bucks a day. I think it would have been a fairly good deal at about Rs. 2,500/- or so.

One doesn’t keep quite the same expectations from a workshop as one would from a training course. Yet, considering the fact that the settings for this workshop would be academic, it would have been better if the topics in this Workshop were to be sequenced better and treated differently. What happened in this workshop was that the individual faculty members were, by and large, actually good and knowledgeable engineers. Yet, the actual amount of knowledge to get transferred was, I am afraid, only minimal.

Many of the speakers could neither pace themselves well nor select their main topics (or subtopics) well. Further, the sequence of these lectures was not very well organized. There was this absence of an integrating theme continuously running through the lectures.

Now, I realize that it is always difficult to ensure a theme even for a small group of speakers. Sticking to a theme would be even more difficult to ensure in a workshop that is delivered by 5+ people. Yet, if you look at say, SIGGRAPH workshops in the USA, or, closer to India, the workshops covered in the NDT-related events, one can clearly see that maintaining an integrating theme, in which people progress from simple topics and fundamentals on to more complex topics and applications, is not as difficult as it might otherwise sound.

Since there was no theme, it had the appearance of a collage, not of a coherent picture. I mean, if you were to catch hold of a typical young attendee (say a BTech/MTech student) and if you were to ask him to identify in one line what distinguishes non-linearity from linearity in the context of FEM, he won’t be able to tell you that it’s all about going from: \begin{bmatrix}A\end{bmatrix} \begin{Bmatrix}x\end{Bmatrix} = \begin{Bmatrix}b\end{Bmatrix} to: \begin{bmatrix}A(x)\end{bmatrix} \begin{Bmatrix}x\end{Bmatrix} = \begin{Bmatrix}b\end{Bmatrix}. … In this workshop, there was an impressive array of topics, many insights, even more colorful pictures… But little reference was made to fundamentals.

So, if such a workshop is to be conducted in future, I think there should be three/four  (at least two/three) short tutorial or review sessions (of 1.5 to 2 hours each, complete with fill-in-the-blank type of worksheets), before the biggies begin to deliver their talks. It would always be helpful to review basics first. And, the matter should not end there. The entire workshop should be a well-ordered progression.

Another matter. The lectures should be interspersed with 30 minute sessions of actually working out simple problems, using an actual software. It would be OK even if such demos did not include hands-on experience.

Yet another matter. A workshop like this should include applications to fracture processes and mechanics. Also, handling the differential kind of non-linearity via FEM, for instance, modeling of the Navier-Stokes equation using FEM. A discussion of this aspect was surprisingly absent.

Also another matter. For an advanced topic like Nonlinear FEM, the discussions must touch upon how to abstract boundary and initial conditions from the given actual situation. This should be done via giving specific references to a few examples, rather than breezing through numerous case studies with the assumption that the audience knows how to specify the constraints. It should be assumed that they don’t. This must be done even if you don’t include topics like well-posedness, dynamic instability-related points, and so on.

One last point. This is not specific to this particular workshop, but to almost any lecture/delivery by almost any Indian researchers/engineers. Namely, that they are either poor on presentation skills. Or, they are *very* poor.

… Among all the lectures, those by Mr. Ashok Joshi (Manager, CAE, Tata Motors), Mr. Anil Gupta (Manager, CAE, Eaton), and Dr. Sundarrajan (Group Coordinator, CDAC) stood out, on this particular point. Especially the one by Mr. Joshi. …

… But many other speakers had just plain unacceptable habits of speaking: not realizing that too much time is being spent on trivia while keeping a single slide open for too long and then rushing through many other more relevant ones; lecture delivery that comes far too haltingly with far too many pauses and breaks; just too much of jumping around the sub-phrases of a single sentence with absolutely indiscriminate levels of “it”s thrown in… In general, far too much mangling of the grammar…  That way, I have no issues with accent—even an outright regional sort of accent—so long as the speaker is clear and audible. I do have a lot of issues with the contents, the grammar, and the general way of delivering statements—regardless of the accent.

I think that if they tape their lecture delivery and listen to it later (or better still: try to transcribe it on paper), they themselves will realize what they need to do. Here is a made-up example:

“… I mean, it is not like, … let me tell you, what I am trying to do it here… As the forces will be applied to it… and… it will not be the same everywhere… I am telling you, it will be different and why it will be happening is… it will not be the same… It will vary… this point, this point… Ok… You can see, it will be different, the displacement.”

The speaker takes so many pauses, so many breaks, before you realize that what he is trying to point out is the spatial non-uniformity of the displacement field—not of the applied traction (a quantity that too is visible, in a colorful manner, in the same diagram, but something which neither the uttered words nor the waved hands make any reference to, even if necessary in this context).

And, BTW, in this made-up example, I have used fewer “it”s and “will”s. I just can’t get why they can’t workout the structure of a sentence just a fraction of a second in advance before proceeding to utter it. Why do they just have to jump in somewhere in the middle of a thought, literally wherever they want, blurt out those pieces, and then haphazardly attempt to connect them with only one constant expression on the face: why are you not getting me?  … What would be so wrong if the speaker were just to take a complete pause (not even those “umms” and “hmmms”), and then just say: “A force is applied over this part of the boundary. We are interested in the displacement field in this region. We are first interested in displacement because it’s the primary unknown. As expected, the displacement field is not uniform. The interesting feature of its non-uniformity is … [so and so]. … Let’s try to understand the causal relation of this pattern with the distribution of the applied traction.”

… More than a mere presentation skills issue, I think there also is something about mental discipline, and more: something about keeping some concern with inductive integration rather than with the deductive jumping around.

I think they should hire professionals from those management/BPO/similar training institutes and undergo a special training course on public speaking. Further, I think they should also introduce some basics of applied epistemology (say, as what even today gets covered in the better among those BEd/MEd courses) in the engineering/science curricula to highlight the importance of ordering, hierarchy, perceptual referents, inductive arguments, integration, and general pacing out the things to be taught. And I think they should make these courses compulsory, the grades being included in the final GPA. Then, the students will take these matters seriously, and then, the future speakers will turn out to be better.

Of course, the above criticism doesn’t mean that there was no value in the workshop. As I said, it certainly was worth about half the price. Also, the above criticism was based not just on this workshop but on virtually all the conferences that I have attended in the past decade in India (including the ISTAM ones). Indian engineers and scientists, in general (exceptions granted), are very poor on presentation skills.

Coming back to this workshop in particular, there indeed was some definite value to it. But still, … how do I put it?… I think the biggest “carry home” point(*) about it was not the contents of the proceedings themselves—it was: those shake-hands and the exchange of the visiting cards before and after the talks. … Sorry, I still can’t call them as my “contacts” yet, but yes, that socializing was, the way I see it, the biggest import of the event for most of the attendees. And that, whether for the good or for the bad, would summarize the nature of this event right.

It was so for me too…. But, apart from it, to me, personally, the event happened to provide one unexpected benefit: it boosted my confidence. (You might want to read it a little differently, too.)

And, there were certain other pleasant moments on the side, too. Dr. Shevgaonkar highlighted the importance of building CAE software in India—as against merely using the packages made abroad. Dr. Arul Selvan tried to drive home the point that materials modeling was right at the core of advanced FEM for mechanical engineers too (though I can’t be sure that the point reached the aforementioned “home”). Dr. Shamasundar indicated how automated optimization was no longer a “hi fi” thing of research but a tool already deployed right here, in Indian industry. Dr. Sreehari Kumar and Dr. Sundarrajan even touched on the issues related to solver technologies, and their discussions of the topic was a welcome addition given the kind of issue that typical Indian mechanical engineers have with any discipline other than their own, e.g. disciplines like computer science, metallurgy, instrumentation, or physics.

(*I can’t recall the informal word they use in such contexts—esp. for conferences—something like “carry home” or “upshot” “take out” or something like that…)

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A Couple of Songs I Like:

1. (Marathi) “daari paaoos paDato, raani paaravaa bhijato…”
Singer: Suman Kalyanpur
Music: Ashok Patki
Lyrics: Ashok G. Paranjape

2. (Marathi) “bolaavaa vithhal, pahaavaa vithhal…”
Lyrics: “sant tukaaraam”
Singer: “prabhaakar kaarekar” [Not sure yet, but it appears to be him. In my guesswork, many clues I gave here earlier turned out to have been incorrect. But I could locate my CD, though not its cover. I still need to check if it’s Karekar, which I could do starting with the publication number they print on the CD itself. And, yes, in any case, IMHO, this rendition is better than any one any other singer, notably: Kishori Amonkar, Jitendra Abhisheki, Aarati Anklikar-Tikekar, Shaunak Abhisheki, others…. If it indeed is Karekar, then the “shishya” obviously rendered it better than the “guru.” I say this even if in the Indian classical music tradition it is a taboo to claim the superiority of the “shishya” if the claimant is not the “guru” in question himself. … Weird! (And let me know if you want the original clues to appear here, possibly scratched out—I hardly care for the “rules” of blogging either!!]

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