Machine “Learning”—An Entertainment [Industry] Edition

Yes, “Machine ‘Learning’,” too, has been one of my “research” interests for some time by now. … Machine learning, esp. ANN (Artificial Neural Networks), esp. Deep Learning. …

Yesterday, I wrote a comment about it at iMechanica. Though it was made in a certain technical context, today I thought that the comment could, perhaps, make sense to many of my general readers, too, if I supply a bit of context to it. So, let me report it here (after a bit of editing). But before coming to my comment, let me first give you the context in which it was made:

Context for my iMechanica comment:

It all began with a fellow iMechanician, one Mingchuan Wang, writing a post of the title “Is machine learning a research priority now in mechanics?” at iMechanica [^]. Biswajit Banerjee responded by pointing out that

“Machine learning includes a large set of techniques that can be summarized as curve fitting in high dimensional spaces. [snip] The usefulness of the new techniques [in machine learning] should not be underestimated.” [Emphasis mine.]

Then Biswajit had pointed out an arXiv paper [^] in which machine learning was reported as having produced some good DFT-like simulations for quantum mechanical simulations, too.

A word about DFT for those who (still) don’t know about it:

DFT, i.e. Density Functional Theory, is “formally exact description of a many-body quantum system through the density alone. In practice, approximations are necessary” [^]. DFT thus is a computational technique; it is used for simulating the electronic structure in quantum mechanical systems involving several hundreds of electrons (i.e. hundreds of atoms). Here is the obligatory link to the Wiki [^], though a better introduction perhaps appears here [(.PDF) ^]. Here is a StackExchange on its limitations [^].

Trivia: Kohn and Sham received a Physics Nobel for inventing DFT. It was a very, very rare instance of a Physics Nobel being awarded for an invention—not a discovery. But the Nobel committee, once again, turned out to have put old Nobel’s money in the right place. Even if the work itself was only an invention, it did directly led to a lot of discoveries in condensed matter physics! That was because DFT was fast—it was fast enough that it could bring the physics of the larger quantum systems within the scope of (any) study at all!

And now, it seems, Machine Learning has advanced enough to be able to produce results that are similar to DFT, but without using any QM theory at all! The computer does have to “learn” its “art” (i.e. “skill”), but it does so from the results of previous DFT-based simulations, not from the theory at the base of DFT. But once the computer does that—“learning”—and the paper shows that it is possible for computer to do that—it is able to compute very similar-looking simulations much, much faster than even the rather fast technique of DFT itself.

OK. Context over. Now here in the next section is my yesterday’s comment at iMechanica. (Also note that the previous exchange on this thread at iMechanica had occurred almost a year ago.) Since it has been edited quite a bit, I will not format it using a quotation block.

[An edited version of my comment begins]

A very late comment, but still, just because something struck me only this late… May as well share it….

I think that, as Biswajit points out, it’s a question of matching a technique to an application area where it is likely to be of “good enough” a fit.

I mean to say, consider fluid dynamics, and contrast it to QM.

In (C)FD, the nonlinearity present in the advective term is a major headache. As far as I can gather, this nonlinearity has all but been “proved” as the basic cause behind the phenomenon of turbulence. If so, using machine learning in CFD would be, by the simple-minded “analysis”, a basically hopeless endeavour. The very idea of using a potential presupposes differential linearity. Therefore, machine learning may be thought as viable in computational Quantum Mechanics (viz. DFT), but not in the more mundane, classical mechanical, CFD.

But then, consider the role of the BCs and the ICs in any simulation. It is true that if you don’t handle nonlinearities right, then as the simulation time progresses, errors are soon enough going to multiply (sort of), and lead to a blowup—or at least a dramatic departure from a realistic simulation.

But then, also notice that there still is some small but nonzero interval of time which has to pass before a really bad amplification of the errors actually begins to occur. Now what if a new “BC-IC” gets imposed right within that time-interval—the one which does show “good enough” an accuracy? In this case, you can expect the simulation to remain “sufficiently” realistic-looking for a long, very long time!

Something like that seems to have been the line of thought implicit in the results reported by this paper: [(.PDF) ^].

Machine learning seems to work even in CFD, because in an interactive session, a new “modified BC-IC” is every now and then is manually being introduced by none other than the end-user himself! And, the location of the modification is precisely the region from where the flow in the rest of the domain would get most dominantly affected during the subsequent, small, time evolution.

It’s somewhat like an electron rushing through a cloud chamber. By the uncertainty principle, the electron “path” sure begins to get hazy immediately after it is “measured” (i.e. absorbed and re-emitted) by a vapor molecule at a definite point in space. The uncertainty in the position grows quite rapidly. However, what actually happens in a cloud chamber is that, before this cone of haziness becomes too big, comes along another vapor molecule, and “zaps” i.e. “measures” the electron back on to a classical position. … After a rapid succession of such going-hazy-getting-zapped process, the end result turns out to be a very, very classical-looking (line-like) path—as if the electron always were only a particle, never a wave.

Conclusion? Be realistic about how smart the “dumb” “curve-fitting” involved in machine learning can at all get. Yet, at the same time, also remain open to all the application areas where it can be made it work—even including those areas where, “intuitively”, you wouldn’t expect it to have any chance to work!

[An edited version of my comment is over. Original here at iMechanica [^]]


“Boy, we seem to have covered a lot of STEM territory here… Mechanics, DFT, QM, CFD, nonlinearity. … But where is either the entertainment or the industry you had promised us in the title?”

You might be saying that….

Well, the CFD paper I cited above was about the entertainment industry. It was, in particular, about the computer games industry. Go check out SoHyeon Jeong’s Web site for more cool videos and graphics [^], all using machine learning.

And, here is another instance connected with entertainment, even though now I am going to make it (mostly) explanation-free.

Check out the following piece of art—a watercolor landscape of a monsoon-time but placid sea-side, in fact. Let me just say that a certain famous artist produced it; in any case, the style is plain unmistakable. … Can you name the artist simply by looking at it? See the picture below:

A sea beach in the monsoons. Watercolor.

If you are unable to name the artist, then check out this story here [^], and a previous story here [^].

A Song I Like:

And finally, to those who have always loved Beatles’ songs…

Here is one song which, I am sure, most of you had never heard before. In any case, it came to be distributed only recently. When and where was it recorded? For both the song and its recording details, check out this site: [^]. Here is another story about it: [^]. And, if you liked what you read (and heard), here is some more stuff of the same kind [^].


I am of the Opinion that 99% of the “modern” “artists” and “music composers” ought to be replaced by computers/robots/machines. Whaddya think?

[Credits: “Endgame” used to be the way Mukul Sharma would end his weekly Mindsport column in the yesteryears’ Sunday Times of India. (The column perhaps also used to appear in The Illustrated Weekly of India before ToI began running it; at least I have a vague recollection of something of that sort, though can’t be quite sure. … I would be a school-boy back then, when the Weekly perhaps ran it.)]



Haptic, tactile, virtual, surgery, etc.

Three updates made on 24th March 2016 appear near the end of this post.

Once in a while I check out the map of the visitors’ locations (see the right bar).

Since hardly any one ever leaves any comment at my blog, I can only guess who these visitors possibly could be. Over a period of time, guessing the particular visitors in this way has become an idle sort of a past-time for me. (No, I don’t obsess over it, and I don’t in fact spend much time on it—at the most half-a-minute or so, once in a while. But, yes, check, I certainly do!)

Among the recent visitors, there was one hit on 6th March 2016 coming from Troy, NY, USA (at 11:48:02 AM IST, to be precise). … Must be someone from RPI, I thought. (My blog is such that mostly only academics could possibly be interested in it; never the people with lucrative industrial jobs such as those in the SF Bay Area. Most of the hits from the Bay Area are from Mountain View, and that’s the place where the bots of Google’s search engines live.)

But I couldn’t remember engaging in any discussion with any one from RPI on any blog.

Who could this visitor possibly be? I could not figure it out immediately, so I let the matter go.

Yesterday, I noticed for the first time an ad for “several” post-doc positions at RPI, posted on iMechanica by Prof. Suvranu De [^]. It had been posted right on the same day: 6th March 2016. However, since recently I was checking out only my thread on the compactness of support [^], I had missed out on the main front page. Thus, I noticed the ad only today.

Curious, I dropped an informal email to Prof. De immediately, almost more or less by cognitive habits.

I am not too keen on going to the USA, and in fact, I am not even inclined to leave India. Reasons are manifold.

You, as every one else on the planet, of course comes to know all that ever happens to or in the USA. Americans make sure that you do—whether you like it or not. (Remember 9/11? They have of course forgotten it by now, but don’t you remember the early naughties when, imagining you to be just as dumb and thick-skinned as they are,  the kind of decibels they had pierced into your metaphorical ears (and in fact also in your soul)? Justifiable, you say? How about other big “controversies” which actually were nothing but scandals? Can’t you pick up one or two?)

Naturally, who would want to go to that uncivilized a place?

And even if you want to argue otherwise, let me suggest you to see if you can or cannot easily gather (or recollect) what all that has happened to me when I was in the USA?

So, the idea of trying to impress Dr. De for this post-doc position was, any which way, completely out of the question. Even if he is HoD at RPI.

And then, frankly, at my age, I don’t even feel like impressing any one for a mere post-doc; not these days anyway (I mean, some 6 years after the PhD defense, and after having to experience so many years of joblessness (including those reported via this blog)). … As far as I am concerned, either they know what and who I am, and act accordingly (including acting swiftly enough), or they don’t. (In the last case, mostly, they end up blaming me, as usual, in some or the other way.)

OK, so, coming back to what I wrote Dr. De. It was more in the nature of a loud thinking about the question of whether I should at all apply to them in the first place or not. … Given my experience of the other American post-docs advertised at iMechanica, e.g. those by Prof. Sukumar (UC Davis), and certain others in the USA, and also my experience of the Americans of the Indian origin (and even among them, those who are JPBTIs and those who are younger to me by age), I can’t keep any realistic expectation that I would ever receive any reply to that email of mine from Prof. De. The odds are far too against; check out the “follow-up” tag. (I could, of course, be psychically attacked, the way I was, right this week, a few days ago.)

Anyway, once thus grown curious about the subject matter, I then did a bit of a Web search, and found the following videos:

The very first listing after a Google search (using the search string: “Suvranu De”; then clicking on the tab: “videos”) was the one on “virtual lap band – surgical simulation”: [^].

Watching that video somehow made me sort of uneasy immediately. Uneasy, in a minor but a definitely irritating way. In a distinctly palpable way, almost as if it was a physical discomfort. No, not because the video carries the scene of tissue-cutting and all. … I have never been one of those who feel nervous or squeamish at the sight of blood, cuts, etc. (Most men, in fact, don’t!) So, my uneasiness was not on that count. …

Soon enough (i.e., much before the time I was in the middle of that video), I figured out the reason why.

I then checked out a few more videos, e.g., those here [^] and here [^]. … Exactly the same sense of discomfort or uneasiness, arising out of the same basic reason.

What kind of an uneasiness could there possibly be? Can you guess?

I don’t want to tell you, right away. I want you to guess. (Assume that an evil smile had transitorily appeared on my face.)

To close this post: If you so want, go ahead, check out those videos, see if it makes you uncomfortable watching some part of an implementation of this new idea. Then, the sin of the sins (“paapam, paapam, mahaapaapam” in Sanskrit): drop me a line (via a comment or an email) stating what that reason possibly could be. (Hint: It has nothing to do with the feely-feely-actually-silly/wily sort of psychological reasons. )

After a while, I will come back, and via an update to this post let you know the reason.

Update 1:

Yahoo! wants you to make a note of the “12 common mistakes to avoid in job interview”: [^]. They published this article today.

Update 2 (on 24th March 2016):

Surprise! Prof.  De soon enough (on 18th March IST) dropped me an email which was brief, professional, but direct to the point. A consequence, and therefore not much of a surprise: I am more or less inclined to at least apply for the position. I have not done so as of today; see the Update 3 below.

Update 3 (on 24th March 2016):

Right the same day (on 18th March 2016 about 10:00 PM IST), my laptop developed serious hardware issues including (but not limited to) yet another HDD crash! The previous crash was less than a year ago, in last June  [^].

Once again, there was  loss of (some) data: the initial and less-than-25%-completed drafts of 4+ research papers, some parts (from sometime in February onwards) of my notes on the current course on CFD, SPH, etc., as well as some preliminary Python code on SPH). The Update 2 in fact got delayed because of this development. I just got the machine back from the Dell Service last evening, and last night got it going on a rapid test installation of Windows 7. I plan to do a more serious re-installation over the next few days.

Update 4 (on 24th March 2016):

The thing in the three videos (about haptics, virtual surgery) that made me uncomfortable or uneasy was the fact that in each case, the surgeon was standing in a way that would have been just a shade uncomfortable to me. The surgeon’s hands were too “free” i.e. unsupported (say near elbow), his torso was stooping down in a wrong way (you couldn’t maintain that posture with accuracy in hands manipulation for long, I thought), and at the same time, he had to keep his eyes fixed on a monitor that was a bit too high-up for the eyes-to-hands coordination to work right. In short, there was this seeming absence of a consideration of ergonomics or the human factors engineering here. Of course, it’s only a prototype, and it’s only a casual onlooker’s take of the “geometry,” but that’s what made me distinctly uncomfortable.

(People often have rationalistic ideas about the proper (i.e. the least stress inducing and most efficient) posture.  In a later post, I will point out a few of these.)



A Song I Like:
(filled-in on 24th March 2016)

(Marathi) “thembaanche painjaN waaje…” [“rutu premaachaa aalaa”]
Singers: Avadhoot Gupte, Vaishali Samant
Music: Shashank Powar
Lyrics: Ravi Wadkar (?)

[An incidental note: The crash occurred—the computer suddenly froze—while I was listening to—actually, watching the YouTube video of—this song. … Somehow, even today, I still continue liking the song! … But yes, as is usual for this section, only the audio track is being referred to. (I had run into this song while searching for some other song, which I will use in a later post.)]

[Some editorial touches, other than the planned update, are possible, as always.]



The Infosys Prizes, 2015

I realized that it was the end of November the other day, and it somehow struck me that I should check out if there has been any news on the Infosys prizes for this year. I vaguely recalled that they make the yearly announcements sometime in the last quarter of a year.

Turns out that, although academic bloggers whose blogs I usually check out had not highlighted this news, the prizes had already been announced right in mid-November [^].

It also turns out also that, yes, I “know”—i.e., have in-person chatted (exactly once) with—one of the recipients. I mean Professor Dr. Umesh Waghmare, who received this year’s award for Engineering Sciences [^]. I had run into him in an informal conference once, and have written about it in a recent post, here [^].

Dr. Waghmare is a very good choice, if you ask me. His work is very neat—I mean both the ideas which he picks out to work on, and the execution on them.

I still remember his presentation at that informal conference (where I chatted with him). He had talked about a (seemingly) very simple idea, related to graphene [^]—its buckling.

Here is my highly dumbed down version of that work by Waghmare and co-authors. (It’s dumbed down a lot—Waghmare et al’s work was on buckling, not bending. But it’s OK; this is just a blog, and guess I have a pretty general sort of a “general readership” here.)

Bending, in general, sets up a combination of tensile and compressive stresses, which results in the setting up of a bending moment within a beam or a plate. All engineers (except possibly for the “soft” branches like CS and IT) study bending quite early in their undergraduate program, typically in the second year. So, I need not explain its analysis in detail. In fact, in this post, I will write only a common-sense level description of the issue. For technical details, look up the Wiki articles on bending [^] and buckling [^] or Prof. Bower’s book [^].

Assuming you are not an engineer, you can always take a longish rubber eraser, hold it so that its longest edge is horizontal, and then bend it with a twist of your fingers. If the bent shape is like an inverted ‘U’, then, the inner (bottom) surface has got compressed, and the outer (top) surface has got stretched. Since compression and tension are opposite in nature, and since the eraser is a continuous body of a finite height, it is easy to see that there has to be a continuous surface within the volume of the eraser, some half-way through its height, where there can be no stresses. That’s because, the stresses change sign in going from the compressive stress at the bottom surface to the tensile stresses on the top surface. For simplicity of mathematics, this problem is modeled as a 1D (line) element, and therefore, in elasticity theory, this actual 2D surface is referred to as the neutral axis (i.e. a line).

The deformation of the eraser is elastic, which means that it remains in the bent state only so long as you are applying a bending “force” to it (actually, it’s a moment of a force).

The classical theory of bending allows you to relate the curvature of the beam, and the bending moment applied to it. Thus, knowing bending moment (or the applied forces), you can tell how much the eraser should bend. Or, knowing how much the eraser has curved, you can tell how big a pair of fforces would have to be applied to its ends. The theory works pretty well; it forms of the basis of how most buildings are designed anyway.

So far, so good. What happens if you bend, not an eraser, but a graphene sheet?

The peculiarity of graphene is that it is a single atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms. Your usual eraser contains billions and billions of layers of atoms through its thickness. In contrast, the thickness of a graphene sheet is entirely accounted for by the finite size of the single layer of atoms. And, it is found that unlike thin paper, the graphen sheet, even if it is the the most extreme case of a thin sheet, actually does offer a good resistance to bending. How do you explain that?

The naive expectation is that something related to the interatomic bonding within this single layer must, somehow, produce both the compressive and tensile stresses—and the systematic variation from the locally tensile to the locally compressive state as we go through this thickness.

Now, at the scale of single atoms, quantum mechanical effects obviously are dominant. Thus, you have to consider those electronic orbitals setting up the bond. A shift in the density of the single layer of orbitals should correspond to the stresses and strains in the classical mechanics of beams and plates.

What Waghmare related at that conference was a very interesting bit.

He calculated the stresses as predicted by (in my words) the changed local density of the orbitals, and found that the forces predicted this way are way smaller than the experimentally reported values for graphene sheets. In other words, the actual graphene is much stiffer than what the naive quantum mechanics-based model shows—even if the model considers those electronic orbitals. What is the source of this additional stiffness?

He then showed a more detailed calculation (i.e. a simulation), and found that the additional stiffness comes from a quantum-mechanical interaction between the portions of the atomic orbitals that go off transverse to the plane of the graphene sheet.

Thus, suppose a graphene sheet is initially held horizontally, and then bent to form an inverted U-like curvature. According to Waghmare and co-authros, you now have to consider not just the orbital cloud between the atoms (i.e. the cloud lying in the same plane as the graphene sheet) but also the orbital “petals” that shoot vertically off the plane of the graphene. Such petals are attached to nucleus of each C atom; they are a part of the electronic (or orbital) structure of the carbon atoms in the graphene sheet.

In other words, the simplest engineering sketch for the graphene sheet, as drawn in the front view, wouldn’t look like a thin horizontal line; it would also have these small vertical “pins” at the site of each carbon atom, overall giving it an appearance rather like a fish-bone.

What happens when you bend the graphene sheet is that on the compression side, the orbital clouds for these vertical petals run into each other. Now, you know that an orbital cloud can be loosely taken as the electronic charge density, and that the like charges (e.g. the negatively charged electrons) repel each other. This inter-electronic repulsive force tends to oppose the bending action. Thus, it is the petals’ contribution which accounts for the additional stiffness of the graphene sheet.

I don’t know whether this result was already known to the scientific community back then in 2010 or not, but in any case, it was a very early analysis of bending of graphene. Further, as far as I could tell, the quality of Waghmare’s calculations and simulations was very definitely superlative. … You work in a field (say computational modeling) for some time, and you just develop a “nose” of sorts, that allows you to “smell” a superlative calculation from an average one. Particularly so, if your own skills on the calculations side are rather on the average, as happens to be the case with me. (My strengths are in conceptual and computational sides, but not on the mathematical side.) …

So, all in all, it’s a very well deserved prize. Congratulations, Dr. Waghmare!


A Song I Like:

(The so-called “fusion” music) “Jaisalmer”
Artists: Rahul Sharma (Santoor) and Richard Clayderman (Piano)
Album: Confluence

[As usual, may be one more editing pass…]


Blogging some crap…

I had taken a vow not to blog very frequently any more—certainly not any more at least right this month, in April.

But then, I am known to break my own rules.

Still, guess I really am coming to a point where quite a few threads on which I wanted to blog are, somehow, sort of coming to an end, and fresh topics are still too fresh to write anything about.

So, the only things to blog about would be crap. Thus the title of this post.

Anyway, here is an update of my interests, and the reason why it actually is, and also would be, difficult for me to blog very regularly in the near future of months, may be even a year or so. [I am being serious.]

1. About micro-level water resources engineering:

Recently, I blogged a lot about it. Now, I think I have more or less completed my preliminary studies, and pursuing anything further would take a definitely targeted and detailed research—something that only can be pursued once I have a master’s or PhD student to guide. Which will only happen once I have a job. Which will only happen in July (when the next academic term of the University of Mumbai begins).

There is only one idea that I might mention for now.

I have installed QGIS, and worked through the relevant exercises to familiarize myself with it. Ujaval Gandhi’s tutorials are absolutely great in this respect.

The idea I can blog about right away is this. As I mentioned earlier, DEM maps with 5 m resolution are impossible to find. I asked my father to see if he had any detailed map at sub-talukaa level. He gave me an old official map from GSI; it is on a 1:50000 scale, with contours at 20 m. Pretty detailed, but still, since we are looking for check-dams of heights up to 10 m, not so helpful. So, I thought of interpolating contours, and the best way to do it would be through some automatic algorithms. The map anyway has to be digitized first.

That means, scan it at a high enough resolution, and then perform a raster to vector conversion so that DEM heightfields could be viewed in QGIS.

The trouble is, the contour lines are too faint. That means, automatic image processing to extract the existing contours would be of limited help. So, I thought of an idea: why not lay a tracing paper on top, and trace out only the contours using black pen, and then, separately scan it? It was this idea that was already mentioned in an official Marathi document by the irrigation department.

Of course, they didn’t mean to go further and do the raster-to-vector conversion and all.  I would want to adapt/create algorithms that could simulate rainfall run-offs after high intensity sporadic rains, possibly leading also to flooding. I also wanted to build algorithms that would allow estimates of volumes of water in a check dam before and after evaporation and seepage. (Seepage calculations would be done, as a first step, after homogenizing the local geology; the local geology could enter the computations at a more advanced stage of the research.) A PhD student at IIT Bombay has done some work in this direction, and I wanted to independently probe these issues. I could always use raster algorithms, but since the size of the map would be huge, I thought that the vector format would be more efficient for some of these algorithms. Thus, I had to pursue the raster-to-vector conversion.

So I did some search in this respect, and found some papers and even open source software. For instance, Peter Selinger’s POTrace, and the further off-shoots from it.

I then realized that since the contour lines in the scanned image (whether original or traced) wouldn’t be just one-pixel wide, I would have to run some kind of a line thinning algorithm.

Suitable ready made solutions are absent and building one from the scratch would be too time consuming—it can possibly be a good topic for a master’s project in the CS/Mech departments, in the computer graphics field. Here is one idea I saw implemented somewhere. To fix our imagination, launch MS Paint (or GIMP on Ubuntu), and manually draw a curve in a thick brush, or type a letter in a huge font like 48 points or so, and save the BMP file. Our objective is to make a single pixel-thick line drawing out of this thick diagram. The CS folks apparently call it the centerlining algorithm. The idea I saw implemented was something like this: (i) Do edge detection to get single pixel wide boundaries. The “filled” letter in the BMP file would now become “hollow;” it would have only the outlines that are single pixel wide. (ii) Do raster-to-vector conversion, say using POTrace, on this hollow letter. You would thus have a polygon representation for the letter. (iii) Run a meshing software (e.g. Jonathan Schewchuk’s Triangle, or something in the CGAL library) to fill the interior parts of this hollow polygon with a single layer of triangles. (iv) Find the centroids of all these triangles, and connect them together. This will get us the line running through the central portions of each arm of the letter diagram. Keep this line and delete the triangles. What you have now got is a single pixel-wide vector representation of what once was a thick letter—or a contour line in the scanned image.

Sine this algorithm seemed too complicated, I thought whether it won’t be possible to simply apply a suitable diffusion algorithm to simply erode away the thickness of the line. For instance, think that the thick-walled letter is initially made uniformly cold, and then it is placed in uniformly heated surroundings. Since the heat enters from boundaries, the outer portions become hotter than the interior. As the temperature goes on increasing, imagine the thick line to begin to melt. As soon as a pixel melts, check whether there is any solid pixel still left in its neighbourhood or not. If yes, remove the molten pixel from the thick line. In the end, you would get a raster representation one pixel thick. You can easily convert it to the vector representation. This is a simplified version of the algorithm I had implemented for my paper on the melting snowman, with that check for neighbouring solid pixels now being thrown in.

Pursuing either would be too much work for the time being; I could either offload it to a student for his project, or work on it at a later date.

Thus ended my present thinking line on the micro-level water-resources engineering.

2. Quantum mechanics:

You knew that I was fooling you when I had noted in my post dated the first of April this year, that:

“in the course of attempting to build a computer simulation, I have now come to notice a certain set of factors which indicate that there is a scope to formulate a rigorous theorem to the effect that it will always be logically impossible to remove all the mysteries of quantum mechanics.”

Guess people know me too well—none fell for it.

Well, though I haven’t quite built a simulation, I have been toying with certain ideas about simulating quantum phenomena using what seems to be a new fluid dynamical model. (I think I had mentioned about using CFD to do QM, on my blog here a little while ago).

I pursued this idea, and found that it indeed should reproduce all the supposed weirdities of QM. But then I also found that this model looks a bit too contrived for my own liking. It’s just not simple enough. So, I have to think more about it, before allocating any specific or concrete research activities about it.

That is another dead-end, as far as blogging is concerned.

However, in the meanwhile, if you must have something interesting related to QM, check out David Hestenes’ work. Pretty good, if you ask me.

OK. Physicists, go away.

3. Homeopathy:

I had ideas about computational modelling for the homeopathic effect. By homeopathy, I mean: the hypothesis that water is capable of storing an “imprint” or “memory” of a foreign substance via structuring of its dipole molecules.

I have blogged about this topic before. I had ideas of doing some molecular dynamics kind of modelling. However, I now realize that given the current computational power, any MD modelling would be for far too short time periods. I am not sure how useful that would be, if some good scheme (say a variational scheme) for coarse-graining or coupling coarse-grained simulation with the fine-grained MD simulation isn’t available.

Anyway, I didn’t have much time available to look into these aspects. And so, there goes another line of research; I don’t have much to do blogging about it.

4. CFD:

This is one more line of research/work for me. Indeed, as far as my professional (academic research) activities go, this one is probably the most important line.

Here, too, there isn’t much left to blog about, even if I have been pursuing some definite work about it.

I would like to model some rheological flows as they occur in ceramics processing, starting with ceramic injection moulding. A friend of mine at IIT Bombay has been working in this area, and I should have easy access to the available experimental data. The phenomenon, of course, is much too complex; I doubt whether an institute with relatively modest means like an IIT could possibly conduct experimentation to all the required level of accuracy or sophistication. Accurate instrumentation means money. In India, money is always much more limited, as compared to, say, in the USA—the place where neither money nor dumbness is ever in short supply.

But the problem is very interesting to a computational engineer like me. Here goes a brief description, suitably simplified (but hopefully not too dumbed down (even if I do have American readers on this blog)).

Take a little bit of wax in a small pot, melt it, and mix some fine sand into it. The paste should have the consistency of a toothpaste (the limestone version, not the gel version). Just like you pinch on the toothpaste tube and pops out the paste—technically this is called an extrusion process—similarly, you have a cylinder and ram arrangement that holds this (molten wax+sand) paste and injects it into a mould cavity. The mould is metallic; aluminium alloys are often used in research because making a precision die in aluminium is less expensive. The hot molten wax+ceramic paste is pushed into the mould cavity under pressure, and fills it. Since the mould is cold, it takes out the heat from the paste, and so the paste solidifies. You then open the mould, take out the part, and sinter it. During sintering, the wax melts and evaporates, and then the sand (ceramic) gets bound together by various sintering mechanism. Materials engineers focus on the entire process from a processing viewpoint. As a computational engineer, my focus is only up to the point that the paste solidifies. So many interesting things happen up to that point that it already makes my plate too full. Here is an indication.

The paste is a rheological material. Its flow is non-Newtonian. (There sinks in his chair your friendly computational fluid dynamicist—his typical software cannot handle non-Newtonian fluids.) If you want to know, this wax+sand paste shows a shear-thinning behaviour (which is in contrast to the shear-thickening behaviour shown by, say, corn syrup).

Further, the flow of the paste involves moving boundaries, with pronounced surface effects, as well as coalescence or merging of boundaries when streams progressing on different arms of the cavity eventually come together during the filling process. (Imagine the simplest mould cavity in the shape of an O-ring. The paste is introduced from one side, say from the dash placed on the left hand side of the cavity, as shown here: “-O”. First, after entering the cavity, the paste has to diverge into the upper and lower arms, and as the cavity filling progresses, the two arms then come together on the rightmost parts of the “O” cavity.)

Modelling moving boundaries is a challenge. No textbook on CFD would even hint at how to handle it right, because all of them are based on rocket science (i.e. the aerodynamics research that NASA and others did from fifties onwards). It’s a curious fact that aeroplanes always fly in air. They never fly at the boundary of air and vacuum. So, an aeronautical engineer never has to worry about a moving fluid boundary problem. Naval engineers have a completely different approach; they have to model a fluid flow that is only near a surface—they can afford to ignore what happens to the fluid that lies any deeper than a few characteristic lengths of their ships. Handling both moving boundaries and interiors of fluids at the same time with sufficient accuracy, therefore, is a pretty good challenge. Ask any people doing CFD research in casting simulation.

But simulation of the flow of the molten iron in gravity sand-casting is, relatively, a less complex problem. Do dimensional analysis and verify that molten iron has the same fluid dynamical characteristics as that of the plain water. In other words, you can always look at how water flows inside a cavity, and the flow pattern would remain exactly the same also for molten iron, even if the metal is so heavy. Implication, surface tension effects are OK to handle for the flow of molten iron. Also, pressures are negligibly small in gravity casting.

But rheological paste being too thick, and it flowing under pressure, handling the surface tensions effect right should be even bigger a challenge. Especially at those points where multiple streams join together, under pressure.

Then, there is also heat transfer. You can’t get away doing only momentum equations; you have to couple in the energy equations too. And, the heat transfer obviously isn’t steady-state; it’s necessarily transient—the whole process of cavity filling and paste solidification gets over within a few seconds, sometimes within even a fraction of a second.

And then, there is this phase change from the liquid state to the solid state too. Yet another complication for the computational engineer.

Why should he address the problem in the first place?

Good question. Answer is: Economics.

If the die design isn’t right, the two arms of the fluid paste lose heat and become sluggish, even part solidify at the boundary, before joining together. The whole idea behind doing computational modelling is to help the die designer improve his design, by allowing him to try out many different die designs and their variations on a computer, before throwing money into making an actual die. Trying out die designs on computer takes time and money too, but the expense would be relatively much much smaller as compared to actually making a die and trying it. Precision machining is too expensive, and taking a manufacturing trial takes too much time—it blocks an entire engineering team and a production machine into just trials.

So, the idea is that the computational engineer could help by telling in advance whether, given a die design and process parameters, defects like cold-joins are likely to occur.

The trouble is, the computational modelling techniques happen to be at their weakest exactly at those spots where important defects like cold-joins are most likely. These are the places where all the armies of the devil come together: non-Newtonian fluid with temperature dependent properties, moving and coalescing boundaries, transient heat transfer, phase change, variable surface tension and wall friction, pressure and rapidity (transience would be too mild a word) of the overall process.

So, that’s what the problem to model itself looks like.

Obviously, ready made software aren’t yet sophisticated enough. The best available are those that do some ad-hoc tweaking to the existing software for the plastic injection moulding. But the material and process parameters differ, and it shows in the results. And, that way, validation of these tweaks still is an on-going activity in the research community.

Obviously, more research is needed! [I told you the reason: Economics!]

Given the granular nature of the material, and the rapidity of the process, some people thought that SPH (smoothed particle hydrodynamics) should be suitable. They have tried, but I don’t know the extent of the sophistication thus far.

Some people have also tried finite-differences based approaches, with some success. But FDM has its limitations—fluxes aren’t conserved, and in a complex process like this, it would be next to impossible to tell whether a predicted result is a feature of the physical process or an artefact of the numerical modelling.

FVM should do better because it conserves fluxes better. But the existing FVM software is too complex to try out the required material and process specific variations. Try introducing just one change to a material model in OpenFOAM, and simulating the entire filling process with it. Forget it. First, try just mould filling with coupled heat transfer. Forget it. First, try just mould filling with OpenFOAM. Forget it. First, try just debug-stepping through a steady-state simulation. Forget it. First, try just compiling it from the sources, successfully.

I did!

Hence, the natural thing to do is to first write some simple FVM code, initially only in 2D, and then go on adding the process-specific complications to it.

Now this is something about I have got going, but by its nature, it also is something about you can’t blog a lot. It will be at least a few months or so before even a preliminary version 0.1 code would become available, at which point some blogging could be done about it—and, hopefully, also some bragging.

Thus, in the meanwhile, that line of thought, too comes to an end, as far as blogging is concerned.

Thus, I don’t (and won’t) have much to blog about, even if I remain (and plan to remain) busy (to very busy).

So allow me to blog only sparsely in the coming weeks and months. Guess I could bring in the comments I made at other blogs once in a while to keep this blog somehow going, but that’s about it.

In short, nothing new. And so, it all is (and is going to be) crap.

More of it, later—much later, may be a few weeks later or so. I will blog, but much more infrequently, that’s the takeaway point.

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(Marathi) “madhu maagashee maajhyaa sakhyaa pari…”
Lyrics: B. R. Tambe
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Vasant Prabhu

[I just finished writing the first cut; an editing pass or two is still due.]