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Engineering Computing Newsletter: Issue 33,
- Engineering Information
- The Titan Visualisation Project
- CFD Community Club
- Visualisation in EASE
- CHEST & NISS Updates
- EASE Central Server Assessment
- Sun Hardware Faults
- TA 91
- The CTI Centre for Engineering
- Letter to the Editor
- AI for Engineers
- Use Your Transputer Initiative - the Video
- Forthcoming Events
This publication includes a variety of separate inserts. One of them is a readership survey, through which! hope to be guided by you towards the newsletter that YOU need. Please spend a few minutes completing and returning the form and/or card via your EASE Contact. Thank you. The other inserts include memberships, courses and meetings (mostly free to academics) to help you in your engineering computing activities. Don't miss these opportunities - they may be just what you need.
A Problem Needing a Solution
Engineers spend a significant proportion of their working lives managing, manipulating and exchanging information. Lots of it! Much of this information is in the form of documents. Lots of them!
The issue of the management and exchange of information and documents is therefore one of major importance in the engineering industry and the effectiveness of these activities is coming under close scrutiny. The interest being taken at a senior level is demonstrated by the attendance at the major meeting on Managing Information for Profit organised by the Institutions of Chemical and Mechanical Engineers in 1990.
SERC has over the last few years sought to stimulate appropriate activity in this field within the UK academic community, particularly through the Community Club for Modelling and Management of Engineering Data. SERC considers that the time is now right to bring together the industrial and academic communities to discuss the issues, opportunities and future directions in this vital area and to consider what form any ongoing initiatives should take.
A meeting, Management, Exchange and Modelling of Engineering Information, is being organised by the SERC to bring together the experts, practitioners and users in these fields. This will take place in London at the IEE on Thursday 26 September 1991. An outline of the meeting is given below:
- Introduction and Overview - setting the scene
- The Problem
- Key Issues and Challenges
- Standards and Technologies
- Current Developments and Future Trends
- One or more Workshops - to discuss the key issues in more detail and formulate appropriate Action Plans.
Topics might include:
- Management and Organisational Issues
- Standards Development
- Document Management
- Database Management Systems
- Data Exchange
- Data Modelling
- Applications Issues
Feedback and Open Discussion
The Way Ahead - development of an Action Plan, perhaps including:
- Formation of a Special Interest Group within the Professional Institutions
- Establishing a directory of centres of activity and available technology
Tony Perris and Mike Mead
The Titan Visualisation Project
In September 1990 an Ardent Titan graphics supercomputer was placed by RAL for an initial loan period of six months in Professor A D Gosman's group at Imperial College. The single-processor Titan II machine, now the Stardent 1500, has been used for the development and assessment of visualisation tools for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) under the EASE Programme.
The loan resulted in the development of an animation tool which was used at a recent CFD Community Club meeting to demonstrate interactive visualisation of flame progress in an internal combustion engine. The tool can read any engine geometry simulated by the SPEED finite volume code, under development at Imperial College, and is distinguished by its ability to handle unstructured moving meshes. The animations produced are stored in a three-dimensional geometric form, permitting visual attributes and the viewing angle to be modified during replay. Figure 1, produced by the demonstration software, shows a flame in a two-litre pent-roof spark-ignition engine running at 5000 revolutions per minute under typical motorway cruising conditions.
The demonstration was based on the Application Visualisation System (AVS) from Stardent Computer, combined with new object-oriented graphical database software called GUISE, developed at Imperial College to support engineering simulation and visualisation. Figure 2 depicts the structure of an application which uses GUISE and AVS. The success of the first stage means that the Titan will stay at Imperial College for another six months in order to make some general purpose GUISE database tools available to the CFD community in the form of a C++ class library for use with AVS.
The loan of the Titan has enabled us to gain useful insights into the practical use of a high-performance visualisation system and of the new paradigm of the 'visualisation toolkit' exemplified by AVS. AVS provides a powerful set of visualisation techniques which drive the Titan's display hardware via the Dynamic Object Rendering Environment (DORE). Use of C++ has resulted in reliable, reusable code, and we have found applications easy to develop using AVS. We have also benefited from working in a 'standard' UNIXTM environment, which enabled us to migrate software quickly to the Titan, and to integrate the Titan into our workstation network.
Overall, progress has been very encouraging and we expect to deliver the GUISE tools on time at the end of September this year. We hope to describe these tools in a second article in this Newsletter on completion of the second loan period.
A D Gosman, C Hill Imperial College
CFD Community Club
1991 Summer School
Following the success of the Second ERCOFT C (European Research Centre of Flow, Turbulence and Combustion) Summer School held in September 1990, the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) Community Club is organising a similar event this year in conjunction with the UK Pilot Centres of ERCOFTAC.
The topics to be covered in the school are solution strategy and problem discretisation. The formal sessions will comprise a mixture of review lectures on aspects of these topics in addition to lectures which present current research. This approach reflects the results of the membership survey which indicate that a combined educational and research-oriented school is the preferred option. Lecturers from the UK and other parts of Europe will take part; those confirmed so far include
- Prof D M Causon, Manchester Poly
- S P Fiddes, Bristol
- Prof J J McGuirk, Loughborough
- Dr N P Weatherill, Swansea.
In addition to the formal lectures, there will be practical sessions where all participants will tackle a set of test problems which will be solved using some of the methods presented in the lectures. A network of SUN3s, SUN4s and a Stardent superworkstation, set up at The Cosener's House, will form the basis of the computing facilities for the summer school; there will also be a link to the Cray at RAL available. Some commercial packages and lecturers' software will be mounted on the system for use in solving the problems, but participants are welcome to bring their own software for use during the week, if they prefer.
The Summer School will take place in The Cosener's House, Abingdon on 16-20 September 1991.
Conor Fitzsimons, Informatics department
Visualisation in EASE
The last issue of this newsletter (ECN32, May 91) outlined the reduced EASE programme and the core activity of visualisation, graphics and interaction. The purpose of this article is to give news of just one aspect of that core activity.
It is our intention to set up a Community Club for Visualisation, within the EASE programme. We believe that all those interested in the problems of understanding complex and voluminous data will be interested in the community club.
Who is the community club intended for?
The Visualisation Community Club is for those interested in visualisation, whether as researchers, developers or users. It is primarily for those within the EASE community at present, but others interested in visualisation are welcome to participate in the community club's activities. This primary orientation could change in the future depending on discussions with other groups.
What is the purpose of the community club?
To some degree, information about the EASE programme for visualisation can be disseminated via the newsletter and this will continue to be used. The purpose of the Visualisation Community Club is to go beyond that in the following ways:
- to provide an ongoing forum for those with a shared interest in visualisation;
- to provide a continuing mechanism for consulting the EASE community on their needs for visualisation;
- to provide a means of disseminating information in more depth to an active visualisation community.
What activities will take place?
The CFD Community Club, whose first year of operation was reported on in the May 91 issue of this newsletter, is an example of the pattern of activity adopted by a community club, which can include meetings on general and special topics; surveys; courses; electronic mail contact. The special topics could be specific applications - materials science, process engineering, and so on - or specific topics in visualisation (using video, using colour, data models, etc), depending on demand from those in the community club.
How do I proceed from here?
A form is included as an insert to this newsletter which we encourage you to fill in and return.
Julian Gallop, Informatics Department
CHEST & NISS Updates
CHEST/NISS updates appear regularly in higher education institutions' Computer Centre newsletters, and other similar publications such as the CTISS File and some Research Council newsletters.
Electronic versions of updates and news from CHEST and NISS can also be found on the NISS Bulletin Board (Section D2 for NISS, D3 for CHEST) (Use the call niss command from a PAD prompt to access the NISS Gateway, then select the NISSBB option from the Gateway menu.)
EASE Central Server Assessment
October 1990 - February 1991
The newsletter published in June 1990, ECN23, contained a report on the Server Assessment work which was undertaken during the last quarter of 1989. The Computing Facilities Committee Technical Advisory Group (CFTAG) asked that the assessment be repeated, since there had been a number of changes since that time. This article presents a short version of a more detailed report which is available on request.
Central Servers are expected to provide file, communications and print server functions for a Community consisting of a local group of workstations, but are not expected to act as Computer Servers. As before, it was decided not to insist that the Server be capable of supporting discless clients. However, it was thought essential that each should run a version of the Unix TM Operating System, fully support NFS and NIS (Yellow Pages). Following the problems encountered last time with connection to the Joint Academic Network (JANET), there was no insistence on this capability (although its presence was noted and functionality examined). Hence it was possible to evaluate a wider range of machines.
Twenty-one suppliers were contacted, and eventually nine agreed to participate. The set of machines tested are listed in Table 1.
Table 1: Machines Tested
|Silicon Graphics||W-4D25S||MIPS 3000A||20||16||660|
|Thame Microsystems||Epoch 31-A1||2*68020||25||8||670+28.8Gb|
The Epoch 31-Al is designated a data storage management system. It includes the traditional magnetic disc storage devices but also has optical discs - either WORM (Write Once Read Many times) or the newer erasable type. Files are moved between magnetic disc and optical disc transparently (the 28.8Gb mentioned in table 1 was supplied on optical discs). It is not possible to run user programs.
The Solbourne 51803 is a multiprocessor system, but the tests did not exercise more than one processor.
As well as collecting factual information about the systems, their expansion capability, peripheral configurations and costings (for a variety of different client clusters), benchmarks were run to determine the NFS performance under load, the performance of NIS (Yellow Pages) and the functionality of Coloured Book software (for connection to JANET). Only SUN and IBM were able to provide a full set of software for this latter function, while Solbourne was able to supply Coloured Books over Pink Book, the Local Area Network protocol.
There is not room in this article for all the results to be presented, but tables 2 and 3 give an idea of the type of data to be found in the full version of the paper. They presents the resul ts of running the nhfsstone benchmark originally supplied by Legato Systems Inc, California, compared with the same baseline machine as in the previous report (a SUN4/280) for continuity (however, this machine is no longer in the SUN catalogue).
Table 2: Key to Table 3
|Code||Range of ratios to SUN4/280|
|Thame Microsystems||Epoch 31-A1|
Table 4 is a summary of the general characteristics and performance of each machine (the more asterisks the better). A - indicates an apparent lack of the feature.
As was discovered in the previous assessment, at least one of the NFS implementations appears to issue a completion message before data has actually been written to disc. This makes writes much faster, but leaves them at risk if there is a machine crash. This is not seen as an advantage.
Table 5: Key
|8||NFS Read (10 clients)|
|9||NFS Write (10 clients)|
|10||NFS Calls Serviced|
|12||Coloured Books Functionality|
Several suppliers have other systems which are capable of acting as servers, and the results presented therefore represent only one possible option (which may not even be the preferred option in some circumstances).
A confidential report giving full details was prepared, as usual, for CFTAG. Unfortunately, the SERC financial problems meant that no Committee has considered its findings or made any recommendations. The restructure of Engineering Board funded work at RAL has resulted in the disbanding of the Assessment team, so this will be the last report produced.
R E Thomas, Informatics Department
Sun Hardware Faults
SERC grant holders who have maintenance of their Sun on their grant should note that the correct procedure for getting help for their hardware faults is to call Sun direct.
The Sun office will advise you of your local Sun office number to call. We regret that RAL Service Line can no longer help with Sun hardware faults.
The Open Software Foundation (OSP) announced on 4 June 1991 that it has selected the TDF technology from the Electronics Division of the Defence Research Agency of the UK (formerly RSRE) for the core technology of ANDF. ANDF is a compiler intermediate language technology that enables developers to develop and distribute their applications in a format that can be installed and run on diverse open systems architectures.
We hope to publish an article on the aims, accomplishments and research programme of the OSF by James Loveluck of the OSF Research Institute in the September issue.
28-30 August 1991, Glasgow
The 3rd annual International Transputer Applications Conference and Exhibition attracted 178 abstracts, from which 136 papers have been selected. Topics to be covered include
- Image Processing
- Signal Processing
- Biomedical Applications
The CTI Centre for Engineering
The Versatility of Computer Simulations in Engineering Education and Training
The CTI Centre for Engineering recently took part in the CAL9l (Computer Assisted Learning) conference at Lancaster University, 8-10 April 1991. As part of the larger programme, the Centre chaired a lively discussion session on the Wednesday afternoon. Participants included representatives from industry and academia, both UK and abroad. This report summarises the discussion.
It was agreed that simulations offer students a valuable learning environment. The open-ended nature of simulations is important; students should be encouraged to experiment. It was felt that the reduced accuracy of the computations in some educational simulations should not pose a problem provided that the approximations preserved the correct qualitative responses. There is evidence that packages of a more general nature, for example in statistics or algebra, are being used more widely. "Black box" packages were not, in general, felt to be appropriate for engineering education. The student should be given adequate information, in lectures or lab sheet, to be able to understand the mathematical structure of the model.
Both academia and industry emphasised that it is essential to provide support for the user. In one industrial company, the initial package specifier has this role. A clear understanding of learning outcomes is highly desirable, preferably at the package specification stage. In both education and training, a need was expressed for courses to train people in the potential and range of applications of computer based learning (CBL) simulation packages. However, at one site, experience suggested that the effect of such courses was ephemeral.
Experience from other countries was shared. The University of Zimbabwe had made use of an expert shell to develop tutorial material including simulations. However, tutoring systems were still relatively crude. Experience of monitoring student performance by the computer had not encountered student resistance. In Norway there was experience of using simulation building packages, with flexible tools to generate the user interface, animated output and a runtime module. The aim is to pennit the creation of a simulation with a minimum of programming in order to cut down development time.
In addition to the expert system shell and simulation programming language above, MATLAB was mentioned as being particularly suited to generating simulations. Current versions permit the necessary control over layout and text. Another approach is to use professional (ie commercial) simulation packages with a suitable pedagogically-built interface tacked on for student use.
Other disciplines were mentioned. Economics simulations incorporating models of the economy had a place in management studies and could be profitable for engineering students. Apparently medicine suffers a lack of good quality simulations software and this is reflected in the low level of simulations uptake.
Human inertia was seen to be a major factor in implementing innovations in education. Planck's dictum was that new theories do not gain ground by convincing people, but because the opponents die out! Nonetheless, the outlook for simulations in engineering education and training is optimistic. If successful applications are being employed, they will generate user demand for more. Target areas should be exploited to stimulate this demand.
The concept of offering a central (engineering) service to polish partially completed educational software was generally supported. There is a need for resources (non-trivial) to support educational packages.
The discussion closed on a positive note. Computerised teaching is perceived to be increasing in draughting packages. However, progress still depends largely upon the continuing work of individual enthusiasts.
Deborah Pollard, Queen Mary and Westfield College
Letter to the Editor
A notice in the Newsletter advertises a Fortran to C Conversion Course. My immediate reaction was, why should any Engineer or Scientist in his/her right mind want to do that? Of course, there are low-level operations, eg driving hardware, for which C is very valuable and it can do a number of important things we cannot do in Fortran 77. However, my purpose in writing is to bring to your attention developments in Fortran 90. This will be upward compatible with '77 and adds many powerful features, enabling one to do much of what C offers in safer, cleaner ways. At recent meetings of ISO WG5 and ANSI X3J3 editing of the final draft standard was finished and accepted, so the published standard should be out later this year.
Particular features of interest are:
- dynamic arrays - several facilities
- pointers - typed, with automatic dereferencing; safe and easy to use
- derived types - allow building complex structures, which can contain pointers, and operations on them
- array syntax - as for scalars
- array intrinsics - a powerful set of matrix operations
- bit intrinsics - allow manipulating bits within integer words
- modules - allow bundling of once only definitions
- interface blocks - allow overloading of routine names, including intrinsics.
E Golton, RAL
AI for Engineers
One Day Events
The last in our series of one-day workshops for this project are currently being organised. More details and registration forms for both of the events can be obtained from Ken Johnson, AIAI.
AI Applications in Manufacturing 17 July 1991
This one-day seminar to be held at AIAI, University of Edinburgh, will describe the use of AI technology within the manufacturing industry. It is hoped to include speakers from both academia and industry. Attendance at the seminar is free to SERC-funded academic engineers.
AI Applications in Safety 9 September 1991
This seminar will concentrate on the growing use of AI applications within the field of industrial and environmental safety. It is hoped to hold this event in the central London area.
This SERC-sponsored project providing awareness to the academic engineering community on all issues concerning artificial intelligence comes to an end in September 1991. As a result the training places at reduced fees for academic engineers working on SERC funded projects will no longer be available. However standby places are available for all academics. The standby academic fee is 40% of the standard course fee. Standby places maybe booked at any time but registration can only be confirmed one week before the start of the course and will depend on the number of standard registrations.
Terri Lydiard, AIAI
Use Your Transputer Initiative - the Video
This video has been available since early 1989 since when an estimated 4000 people both at home and abroad have seen it. Many of these people have seen it through the Initiatives Video Loan Pool whilst some of the screenings have been to large audiences, eg over 300 people attended the Soviet-British Symposium on Transputers in Moscow. The video is known to have been shown or copies are available in Japan, USA, Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, Russia, Poland, Germany, France, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland and Ireland.
The videos success prompted the Transputer Initiatives Management Group (TAMG) at its last meeting to approve the production of a second video devoted to in-use industrial applications of transputers.
The Loan Pool
The pool contains ten copies of the video (+ two other titles, all in VHS) available on loan for a period of one month free of charge.
To date over 120 loans have been made, of which 46 have been made to industry; numerous well known names appear on the list including Siemens, British Aerospace, Easams, Rover Group, IBM, British Steel, Legal & General, Lucas, etc.
Ten of the loans have gone outside the UK where they have been shown at events such as the recent Polish Transputer Symposium.
Part of the loan pools success is the simplicity of getting a copy. Simply contact the address below and a copy will be sent (as soon as one becomes available!)
Use Your Transputer Initiative
This 15 minute video commences by introducing the Transputer and then looks at some currently in-use applications.
Featured are applications developed or in-use by British Aerospace, Rolls Royce, Rockfield Software and Whitecross Systems. The Introduction includes scenes of the Transputer being made with an explanation of how Transputers work by Ian Barron.
Parallel Processing & the Transputer
This 18 minute video was jointly produced by the Microelectronics Development Centre and the National Engineering Laboratory. The video seeks to answer four specific questions:
- What is Parallel Processing?
- What is a Transputer?
- How do I program the Transputer?
- What can I use it for?
The video provides a good technical introduction to the Transputer family and their application.
Terry Mawby, RAL
- CFD Seminar, 9 July, RAL
- Knowledge Engineering Course, 16-18 July, Salford
- TA 91. 28-30 August, Glasgow
- Fortran to C Conversion. September, City University
- Knowledge Engineering Course, 23-25 September, RAL
- Finite Element Library Course, 23-27 September, RAL
- Modelling and Management of Engineering Data Community Club, 26 September, London
- CFD Summer School, 16-20 September, RAL
- PHIGS, October, RAL
- OOP Applications, October, RAL
- MOTIF Seminar, November, RAL
- Human Factors Aspects of User Interface Design, October, RAL
- CFD Workshop, 30 October, UMIST