The Foundations of Verification: Solution Verification

A very great deal more truth can become known than can be proven.

― Richard Feynman

Solution verification involves examining error and results without the knowledge the imgresexact solution. This makes it a more difficult task than code verification where an exact solution is known removing a major uncertainty. A secondary issue associated with not knowing the exact solution is the implications on the nature of the solution itself. With an exact solution, a mathematical structure exists allowing the solution to be achievable analytically. Furthermore, exact solutions are limited to relatively simple models that often cannot model reality. Thus, the modeling approach to which solution verification is applied is necessarily more complex. All of these factors are confounding and produce a more perilous environment to conduct verification. The key product of solution verification is an estimate of numerical error and the secondary product is the rate of convergence. Both of these quantities are important to consider in the analysis.

The way to cope with this generally more hostile analysis environment involves improved analysis methods. One of the key elements in the analysis is contending with the lack of certainty about the solution, its nature and character mathematically. For this reason the knowledge and guarantees about the results is missing. For instance we don’t know what order of convergence to reasonably expect from the analysis and cannot use this to screen our results. Generally speaking if the verification result shows convergence at the theoretical rate for the method we can be sure we are solving a relatively simple “easy” problem. Usually the applied problems that modeling & simulation are attacking are mathematically difficult. Philosophically, the whole reason for modeling & simulation is solving problems that are beyond our analytical grasp. In a deep sense the complex and difficult character to problems is unavoidable for the practical a use of modeling with computers. When we’ve successfully attacked the problem of verification for a problem without an exact solution, the same analysis methodology can improve our code verification practice.chart-with-huge-error-bars

It is important to understand solution verification within the broader context of computational modeling. Solution verification contributes to the overall enterprise of analysis uncertainty quantification. The most classical investigation will involve comparing the modeled results with observations in the real World (ideally an experiment). There are many elements to the uncertainty in this case including the model parameters, the constitutive properties, the experimental measurements and the numerical solution. Solution verification is the process for examining and estimating the numerical error and specifying its uncertainty. Sometimes this is applied in the use of computational modeling for purposes of decision-making or scenario testing where no real World data exists. In this case the numerical error is an important element in the overall lack of certainty about the results. If the numerical error is well behaved it will be a bias from the exact continuum solution to the model. This bias is important to understand in how it might skew the results and any advise.

There are two ways to do great mathematics. The first is to be smarter than everybody else. The second way is to be stupider than everybody else — but persistent.

― Raoul Bott

When one lays out the mathematical framework for solution verification, the immediate impression is the added difficulty compared to code verification is the lack of direct knowledge of the precise solution. The full solution to the problem is inferred from the inaccurate numerical solutions. The equation to solve is the following S_0 = S_k + C h_k^a where the new unknown is the obstensible estimate of the exact solution S_0 that is the solution where h=0. The solutions used to determine this estimate are S_k the solutions found with h_k. We notice that we have imagesthree unknowns, S_0, C, a meaning the well-determined solution requires three pieces of determined data, S_k. As we will discuss this problem can be solved in a variety of ways including under-, fully and over-determined forms.

One of the key issues to recognize with solving this problem is an aspect of complexity because of the general nonlinearity of the determination of the model. The solution to this coupled system of nonlinear equations is generally subtle, and necessarily solved numerically. As such, the solution can have its own errors requiring some care and verification. The system of equations admits a simple analytical solution in special cases where the discrete solutions use a sequence of meshes where r = h_k/h_{k-1} is constant. In this case we can write the solution in closed form \log (E_{1,2}/E_{2,3}) / \log (r) , where E_{k,k-1} = S_k - S_{k-1}. More generally we need to attack this with a coupled nonlinear solve. If we deal with an over-determined version of the problem we will use a nonlinear least squares solver (or this is the knee-jerk response). As we discuss next, thinking about this decision opens the door to some more interesting and robust choices.

The general over-determined version of the solution verification equation (i.e., more than three grids) would be amenable to solution via nonlinear least squares method. This is not the only choice, and consideration of this opens the door to other choices. The solution to the over-determined problem is not unique, and the solution has the imprint of the method of solution. As such the choice of least squares implies a number of explicit assumptions that the typical practitioner doesn’t even know they are making. For example, one may choose to solve the over-determined problem in a different norm than the two norm (i.e., least squares). One may choose to solve a constrained problem instead of an unconstrained problem. In addition, one could consider solving an under-determined problem adding either constraints or regularizing the solution. A classical example of regularization is the Tikhonov method where a penalty is added to make the problem well determined. A popular recent approach focuses on a similar regularization, but in the one norm (compressed sensing, LASSO, …).

mediocritydemotivatorThere are several practical issues related to this whole thread of discussion. One often encountered and extremely problematic issue is insanely high convergence rates. After one has been doing verification or seeing others do verification for a while, the analysis will sometimes provide an extremely high convergence rate. For example a second order method used to solve a problem will produce a sequence that produces a seeming 15th order solution (this example is given later). This is a ridiculous and results in woeful estimates of numerical error. A result like this usually indicates a solution on a tremendously unresolved mesh, and a generally unreliable simulation. This is one of those things that analysts should be mindful of. Constrained solution of the nonlinear equations can mitigate this possibility and exclude it a priori. This general approach including the solution with other norms, constraints and other aspects is explored in the paper on Robust Verification. The key concept is the solution to the error estimation problem is not unique and highly dependent upon assumptions. Different assumptions lead to different results to the problem and can be harnessed to make the analysis more robust and impervious to issues that might derail it.

The techniques discussed in that paper were originally devised to deal with the all too often case where only one or two different grids are used and the error estimation problem is under-determined. The approach taken to solve this problem involves adding constraints to the solution based on expert knowledge and judgment. The overall approach was then approached when it was realized that the under- fully- and over-determined cases should all be treated consistently. The verification problem is solved repeatedly using different assumptions resulting in a natural variation in the results providing uncertainty in the error estimation and the rate of convergence. If the data is self consistent with a well-defined solution the uncertainty in the error will itself be small and the convergence rate will also be certain. Conversely if the data is conflicting or opposes expert expectations, the uncertainty will be large. This entire methodology produces a more robust numerical uncertainty that adapts to the data, and avoids using fixed size safety factors. It turns out that this expert judgment is usually called into action with verification, but in an ad hoc manner and only when the issues are serious. The robust verification adds the expert judgment from the outset so that more subtle issues are subject to the same treatment.

Instead of solving the verification equation once using a nonlinear least squares approach, robust verification solves the problem in a multitude of ways. This involves solving the verification problem using other error norms in a constrained minimization framework. The data is also used over. One standard assumption is that the solutions on the finer grids (smaller h) are closer to the exact solution, and this data is more prominent in the solution. The end result of the analysis is a multitude of estimates of the numerical error and convergence. These results are then subjected to robust statistical examination using median statistics. We report the median of the estimates as the error and convergence rate. The median deviation is used to place and uncertainty on this estimate. One of the key benefits of this estimation is its lack of susceptibility to corruption by outliers in the analysis. Outliers are further suppressed in the analysis by the use of expert judgment as constraints. For example, the absurdly large convergence rates are removed by the constraints if the rate of convergence is constrained to be below a given value.

forwardEulerBefore moving to examples of solution verification we will show how robust verification can be used for code verification work. Since the error is known, the only uncertainty in the analysis is the rate of convergence. As we can immediately notice that this technique will get rid of a crucial ambiguity in the analysis. In standard code verification analysis, the rate of convergence is never the exact formal order, and expert judgment is used to determine if the results is close enough. With robust verification, the convergence rate has an uncertainty and the question of whether the exact value is included in the uncertainty band can be asked. Before showing the results for this application of robust verification, we need to note that the exact rate of verification is only the asymptotic rate in the limit of h = 0. For a finite step size the rate of convergence should deviate from this value and for simple cases the value can be derived using a modified version of classical numerical analysis.

Our first example of solution verification will repeat our examination of simple ODE integrators, but disregard our knowledge of the exact solution. It is a useful example because we can examine the efficacy of solution verification with a precise knowledge of the true errors. We can use the data from our code verification study to good effect here. Here is the raw data used for the forward Euler study.

h Solution, t=1 Error, t=1
0.20 0.3277 0.0402
0.10 0.3487 0.0192
0.05 0.3585 0.0094
0.02 0.3642 0.0037
0.01 0.3660 0.0018
estimate 0.3678±0.0002  

For the code verification part of the example, the estimated truncation error is E=0.2030 h^{1.0245\pm0.0124}. The error bars do not take us to the theoretical convergence rate of one. The data is consistent with the rate being above one (and this is analytically expected). Using this same data for solution verification yields the following model, S(h) = 0.3678 \pm 0.0002 - 0.2080 h^{1.0386 \pm 0.0207}. Close examination shows that this solution is quite close to the exact solution 0.0001 and within the error bars. If we use the standard techniques of simply least square fitting the data we get the following model, S(h) = 0.3677 - 0.2239 h^{1.0717} . The error estimate here is 0.0017, which ends up being rather over generous when the standard safety factor of 1.25 is applied. Using the robust verification technique we get a better estimate of the exact solution, the actual convergence rate and a tighter error bound.

Supposing is good, but finding out is better.

― Mark Twain

It is also useful to look at a pathological case where the rate of convergence is absurd and standard analysis would be prone to missing it. The case we have at our fingertips involved very coarse grid solutions to large eddy simulation in a complex geometry relevant to heat transfer and fluid flow in nuclear reactors. Early calculations were used to estimate the mesh required for well-resolved calculations. As we found out, this is a perilous enterprise. A couple codes (one production and one research) we enlisted in thirodbundles study using some initial grids that were known to be inadequate. One of the codes was relatively well trusted for this class of applications and produced three solutions that for all appearances appeared reasonable. One of the key parameters is the pressure drop through the test section. Using grids 664K, 1224K and 1934K elements we got pressure drops of 31.8 kPa, 24.6 kPa and 24.4 kPa respectively. Using a standard curve fitting for the effective mesh resolution gave an estimate of 24.3 kPa±0.0080 kPa for the resolved pressure drop and a convergence rate of 15.84. This is an absurd result and needs to simply be rejected immediately. Using the robust verification methodology on the same data set, gives a pressure drop of 16.1 kPa±13.5 kPa with a convergence rate of 1.23, which is reasonable. Subsequent calculations on refined grids produced results that were remarkably close to this estimate confirming the power of the technique even when given data that was substantially corrupted.

drekarOur final example is a simple case of validation using the classical phenomena of vortex shedding over a cylinder at a relatively small Reynolds number. This is part of a reasonable effort to validate a research code before using in on more serious problems. The key experimental value to examine is the Stouhal number defined, St = f \ell/U the shedding frequency normalized by the size of cylinder and the velocity, which has the value experimentally of 0.164\pm 0.005 for a flow of Reynolds number 100 (the Reynolds number is the non-dimensional ratio of inertial to viscous force in a flow).

∆t RMS h St
0.002 0.054111988 0.110474853
0.002 0.023801688 0.152492294
0.002 0.010786082 0.164777976
0.002 0.005264375 0.165127187

When we apply the robust verification methodology to this data we find that the code produces a Strouhal number that is slightly larger than the experimental value St(h) = 0.1657\pm 0.0013 + C h^{1.8486\pm 0.1476}. Including error bars recovers the experimental value. This can be regarded as a modest success for the code’s ability to be considered for more complex flows.

The foundation of data gathering is built on asking questions. Never limit the number of hows, whats, wheres, whens, whys and whos, as you are conducting an investigation. A good researcher knows that there will always be more questions than answers.

― Karl Pippart III

Rider, William, Walt Witkowski, James R. Kamm, and Tim Wildey. “Robust verification analysis.” Journal of Computational Physics 307 (2016): 146-163.


The Foundations of Verification: Code Verification

A very great deal more truth can become known than can be proven.

― Richard Feynman

In modeling and simulation verification is a set of activities broadly supporting the quality. Verification consists of two modes of practice: code verification where the mathematical correctness of the computer code is assessed, or solution (calculation) verification where the numerical error (uncertainty) is estimated. Both activities are closely linked to each other and they are utterly complementary in nature. To a large extent the methodology used for both types of verification are similar, but the differences between the two are important to maintain.chart-with-huge-error-bars

Modeling and simulation is an activity where continuous mathematics is converted to discrete computable quantities. This process involves approximation of the continuous mathematics and in almost every non-pathological circumstance is inexact. The core of modeling and simulation is the solution of (partial) differential equations using approximation methods. Code verification is a means of assuring that the approximations used to make the discrete solution of differential equations tractable on a computer are correct. A key aspect of code verification is determining that the discrete approximation of the differential equation is consistent with the continuous version of the differential equation.

Consistency demands that the order of approximation of the differential equation be at least one. In other words the discrete equations produce solutions that are the original continuous equations plus terms that are proportional to the size of the discretization. This character may be examined by solving problems with an exact analytical solution (or a problem with very well controlled and characterized errors) using several discretization sizes allowing the computation of errors, and determining the order of approximation. The combination of consistency and stability of the approximation means the approximation converges to the correct solution of the continuous differential equation.

We will examine both the nature of different types of problems to determine code verification and the methods of determining the order of approximation. One of the key aspects of code verification is the congruence of the theoretical order of accuracy for a method, and the observed order of accuracy. It is important to note that the theoretical order of convergence also depends upon the problem being solved. The problem must possess enough regularity to support the convergence rate expected. At this point it is important to point out that code verification produces both an order of approximation and an observed error in solution. Both of these quantities are important. For code verification, the order of approximation is the primary quantity of interest. It depends on both the nature of the approximation method and the problem being solved. If the problem being solved is insufficiently regular and smooth, the order of accuracy will not match the theoretical expectations of the method.

The second form of verification is solution verification. This is quite similar to code verification, but its aim is the estimation of approximation errors in a calculation. When one runs a problem without an analytical solution, the estimation of errors is more intricate. One looks at a series of solutions and compute the solution that is indicated by the sequence. Essentially the question of what solution is the approximation appearing to converge toward is being asked. If the sequence of solutions converges, the error in the solution can be inferred. As with code verification the order of convergence and the error is a product of the analysis. Conversely to the code verification, the error estimate is the primary quantity of interest, and the order of convergence is secondary.




The approach, procedure and methodology for both forms of verification are utterly complementary. Much of the mathematics and flow of work are shared in all verification, but details, pitfalls and key tips differ. In this post the broader themes of commonality are examined along with distinctions and a general rubric for each type of verification is discussed.

Code verification

Science replaces private prejudice with public, verifiable evidence.

― Richard Dawkins

When one conducts a code verification study there is a basic flow of activities and practices to conduct. One looks at a code to target and a problem to solve. Several key bits of information should be immediately being focused upon before the problem is solved. What is the order of accuracy for the method in the code being examined, and what is the order of accuracy that the problem being solved can expose? In addition the nature of the analytical solution to the problem should be carefully considered. For example what is the nature of the solution? Closed form? Series expansion? Numerical evaluation? Some of these forms of analytical solution have errors that must be controlled and assessed before the code’s method may be assessed. By the same token are there auxiliary aspects of the code’s solution that might pollute results? Solution of linear systems of equations? Stability issues? Computer roundoff or parallel computing issues? In each case these details could pollute results if not carefully excluded from consideration.

Next one needs to produce a solution on a sequence of meshes. For simple verificationforwardEuler using a single discretization parameter only two discretizations are needed for verification (two equations to solve for two unknowns). For code verification the model for error is simple, generally a power law, E = A h^a where the error is proportional to the discretization parameter h to the power (order) a. There is also a constant of proportionality. The order, a is the target of the study and one looks at its congruence with the expected theoretical order for the method on the problem being solved. It is almost always advisable to use more than the minimum number of meshes to assure that one simply isn’t examining anamolous behavior from the code.

One of the problems with code verification is the rarity of the observed order of convergence to exactly match the expected order of convergence. The question of how close is close enough haunts investigations. Invariably the observed order will deviate from the expected order by some amount. The question for the practitioner is how close is acceptable? Generally this question is given little attention. There are more advanced verification techniques that can put this issue to rest by producing uncertainties on the observed order, but the standard techniques simply produce a single result. Usually this results in rules of thumb that apply in broad brushes, but undermine the credibility of the whole enterprise. Often the criterion is that the observed order should be within a tenth of the theoretically expected result.

Another key caveat comes up when the problem is discontinuous. In this case the observed order is either set to one for nonlinear solutions, or weakly tied to the theoretical order of convergence. For the wave equation this result was studied by Banks, Aslam and Rider and admits an analytical and firmly determined result. In both cases the issue of inexact congruence with the expected rate of convergence remains. In addition for problems involving systems of equations will have multiple features each having a separate order of convergence, and the rates will combine within a solution. Ultimately in an asymptotic sense the lowest order of convergence will dominate as h \rightarrow 0. This is quite difficult to achieve practically.

The last major issue that comes up in code verification (and solution verification too) is the nature of the discrete mesh and its connection to the asymptotic range of convergence. All of the theoretical results apply when the discretization parameter is small in a broad mathematical sense. This is quite problem specific and generally ill defined. Examining the congruence of the numerical derivatives of the analytical solution with the analytical derivatives can generally assess this. When these quantities are in close agreement, the solution can be considered to be asymptotic. Again these definitions are loose and generally applied with a large degree of professional or expert judgment.

It is useful to examine these issues through a concrete problem in code verification. The example I’ll use is a simple ordinary differential equation integrator for a linear equation u_t = - u coded up in Mathematica. We could solve this problem in a spreadsheet (like MS Excel), python, or a standard programming language. The example will look at two first order methods, forwards u^{n+1} + h u^n =u^{n} and backwards u^{n+1} + h u^{n+1} = u^n Euler methods. Both of these methods produce leading first order errors in an asymptotic sense, E = C h + O(h^2) . If h is large enough, the high order terms will pollute the error and produce deviations from the pure first-order error. Let’s look at this example and the concrete analysis from verification. This will be instructive in getting to similar problems encountered in general code verification.

Here is the code

ForwardEuler[h_, T_, a_] :=


uo = 1;

t = 0.0;

While[t < T,

(* integration *)

t = t + h;

un = uo + a h uo;

Print[“t= “, t, ” u(t) = “, un, ” err = “, Abs[un – Exp[a t]]];

uo = un




BackwardEuler[h_, T_, a_] :=


uo = 1;

t = 0.0;

While[t < T,

(* integration *)

t = t + h;

un = uo/(1 + a h);

Print[“t= “, t, ” u(t) = “, un, ” err = “, Abs[un – Exp[a t]]];

uo = un



Let’s look at the forward Euler integrator for several different choices of h, different end times for the solution and number of discrete solutions using the method. We will do the same thing for the backwards Euler method, which is different because it is unconditionally stable with respect to step size. For this simple ODE, the method is stable to a stepsize of h=2 and we can solve the problem to two stopping times of T=1.0, T=10.0 and T=100.0. The analytical solution is always, u(T) = \exp^{-T}. We can solve this problem using a set of step sizes, h=1.0, h=0.5, h=0.25, h=0.125.

I can give results for various pairs of step sizes with both integrators, and see some common pathologies that we must deal with. Even solving such a simple problem, with simple methods can prove difficult and prone to heavy interpretation (arguably the simplest problem with the simplest methods). Much different results are achieved when the problem is run until different stopping times. We see the impactbdf2-orderof accumulated error (since I’m using Mathematica so aspects of round-off error are pushed aside). In these cases round-off error would be another complication. Furthermore the backward Euler method for multiple equations would involve a linear (or nonlinear) solution that itself has an error tolerance that may significantly impact verification results. We see good results for T=1.0 and a systematic deviation for longer ending times. To get acceptable verification results would require much smaller step sizes (for longer calculations!). This shows how easy it is to scratch the surface of really complex behavior in verification that might mask correctly implemented methods. What isn’t so well appreciated is that this behavior is expected and amenable to analysis through standard methods extended to look for it.

h FE T=1 FE T=10 FE T=100 BE T=1 BE T=10 BE T=100
1 1.64 0.03 ~0 0.79 1.87 16.99
0.5 1.20 0.33 4e-07 0.88 1.54 11.78
0.25 1.08 0.65 0.002 0.93 1.30 7.17
0.125 1.04 0.83 0.05 0.96 1.16 4.07
0.0625 1.02 0.92 0.27 0.98 1.08 2.40
0.03125 1.01 0.96 0.55 0.99 1.04 1.63

Computed order of convergence for forward Euler (FE) and backward Euler (BE) methods for various stopping times and step sizes.

Types of Code Verification Problems and Associated Data

 Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.

― Joss Whedon

The problem types are categorized by the difficulty of providing a solution coupled withimages-2the quality of the solution that can be obtained.   These two concepts go hand-in-hand. As simple closed form solution is easy to obtain and evaluation. Conversely, a numerical solution of partial differential equations is difficult and carries a number of serious issues regarding its quality and trustworthiness. These issues are addressed by an increased level of scrutiny on evidence provided by associated data. Each of benchmark is not necessarily analytical in nature, and the solutions are each constructed in different means with different expected levels of quality and accompanying data. This necessitates the differences in level of required documentation and accompanying supporting material to assure the user of its quality.

Next, we provide a list of types of benchmarks along with an archetypical example of each. This is intended to be instructive to the experienced reader, who may recognize the example. The list is roughly ordered in increasing level of difficulty and need for greater supporting material.

  • Closed form analytical solution (usually algebraic in nature). Example: Incompressible, unsteady, 2-D, laminar flow over an oscillating plate (Stokes oscillating plate) given in Panton, R. L. (1984). Incompressible Flow, New York, John Wiley, pp. 266-272.
  • Analytical solution with significantly complex numerical evaluation
    • Series solution. Example: Numerous classical problems, in H. Lamb’s book, “Hydrodynamics,” Dover, 1932. Classical separation of variables solution to heat conduction. Example: Incompressible, unsteady, axisymmetric 2-D, laminar flow in a circular tube impulsively started (Szymanski flow), given in White, F. M. (1991). Viscous Fluid Flow, New York, McGraw Hill, pp. 133-134.
    • Nonlinear algebraic solution. Example: The Riemann shock tube problem, J. Gottleib, C. Groth, “Assessment of Riemann solvers for unsteady one-dimensional inviscid flows of perfect gases,” Journal of Computational Physics, 78(2), pp. 437-458, 1988.
    • A similarity solution requiring a numerical solution of nonlinear ordinary differential equations.
    • Manufactured Solution. Example: Incompressible, steady, 2-D, turbulent, wall-bounded flow with two turbulence models (makes no difference to me), given in Eça, L., M. Hoekstra, A. Hay and D. Pelletier (2007). “On the construction of manufactured solutions for one and two-equation eddy-viscosity models.” International Journal for Numerical Methods in Fluids. 54(2), 119-154.
  • Highly accurate numerical solution (not analytical). Example: Incompressible, steady, 2-D, laminar stagnation flow on a flat plate (Hiemenz flow), given in White, F. M. (1991). Viscous Fluid Flow, New York, McGraw Hill. pp. 152-157.
  • Numerical benchmark with an accurate numerical solution. Example: Incompressible, steady, 2-D, laminar flow in a driven cavity (with the singularities removed), given in Prabhakar, V. and J. N. Reddy (2006). “Spectral/hp Penalty Least-Squares Finite Element Formulation for the Steady Incompressible Navier-Stokes Equations.” Journal of Computational Physics. 215(1), 274-297.
  • Code-to-code comparison data. Example: Incompressible, steady, 2-D, laminar flow over a back-step, given in Gartling, D. K. (1990). “A Test Problem for Outflow Boundary Conditions-Flow Over a Backward-Facing Step.” International Journal for Numerical Methods in Fluids. 11, 953-967.

Below is a list of the different types of data associated with verification problems defined above. Depending on the nature of the test problem only a subset of these data are necessary. This will be provided below the list of data types. As noted above, benchmarks with well-defined closed form analytical solutions require relatively less data than a benchmark associated with the approximate numerical solution of PDEs.

  • Detailed technical description of the problem (report or paper)
  • Analysis of the mathematics of the problem (report or paper)
  • Computer analysis of solution (input file)
  • Computer solution of the mathematical solution
  • Computer implementation of the numerical solution
  • Error analysis of the “exact” numerical solution
  • Derivation of the source term and software implementation or input
  • Computer implementation of the source term (manufactured solution)
  • Grids for numerical solution
  • Convergence and error estimation of approximate numerical solution
  • Uncertainty and sensitivity study of numerical solution
  • Description and analysis of computational methods
  • Numerical analysis theory associated with convergence
  • Code description/manuals
  • Input files for problems and auxiliary software
  • Patch test description, Derivation, input and analysis
  • Unusual boundary conditions (inflow, piston, etc.…)
  • Physics restrictions (boundary layer theory, inviscid,)
  • Software quality documents
  • Scripts and auxiliary software for verification
  • Source code
  • Metric descriptions
  • Verification results including code version, date, etc.
  • Numerical sensitivity studies
  • Feature coverage in verification

Below, we briefly describe the characteristics of each type of benchmark documentation (could be called artifacts or meta-data) associated with a code verification benchmarks. These artifacts take a number of concrete forms such as a written document, computer code, mathematical solution in document or software form, input files for executable codes, input to automatic computer analysis, output from software quality systems, among others.

  • Detailed technical description of the benchmark (report or paper): This can include a technical paper in a journal or conference proceeding describing the benchmark and its solution. Another form would be a report informal or formal from an institution providing the same information.
  • Analysis of the mathematics (report or paper): For any solution that is closed form, or requiring a semi-analytical solution, the mathematics must be described in detail. This can be included in the paper (report) discussed previously or in a separate document.
  • Computer analysis of solution (input file): If the mathematics or solution is accomplished using a computerized analysis, the program used and the input to the program should be included. Some sort of written documentation such as a manual for the software ideally accompanies this artifact.
  • Computer solution of the mathematical solution: The actual computerized solution of the mathematical problem should be included in whatever form the computerized solution takes. This should include any error analysis completed with this solution.
  • Computer implementation of the numerical solution: The analytical solution should be implemented in a computational form to allow the comparison with the numerical solution. This should include some sort of error analysis in the form of a report.
  • Derivation of the source term and software implementation or input: In the case of the method of manufactured solutions, the source term used to drive the numerical method must be derived through a well-defined numerical procedure. This should be documented through a document, and numerical tools used for the derivation and implementation.
  • Computer implementation of the source term (manufactured solution): The source term should be included in a form amenable to direct use in a computer code. The language for the computer code should be clearly defined as well as the compiler and computer system used.
  • Grids for numerical solution: If a solution is computed using another simulation code all relevant details on the numerical grid(s) used must be included. This could be direct grid files, or input files to well-defined grid generation software.
  • Convergence and error estimation of numerical solution: The numerical solution must include a convergence study and error estimate. These should be detailed in an appropriately peer-reviewed document.
  • Uncertainty and sensitivity study of numerical solution: The various modeling options in the code used to provide the numerical solution must be examined vis-a-vis the uncertainty and sensitivity of the solution to these choices. This study should be used to justify the methodology used for the baseline solution.
  • Description and analysis of computational methods: The methods used by the code used for the baseline solution must be completely described and analyzed. This can take the form of a complete bibliography of readily available literature
  • Numerical analysis theory associated with convergence: The nature of the convergence and the magnitude of error in the numerical solution must be described and demonstrated. This can take the form of a complete bibliography of readily available literature.
  • Code description/manuals: The code manual and complete description must be included with the analysis and description.
  • Input files for benchmarks and auxiliary software: The input file used to produce the solution must be included. Any auxiliary software used to produce or analyze the solution must be full described or included.
  • Unusual boundary conditions (inflow, piston, outflow, Robin, symmetry, …): Should the benchmark require unusual or involved boundary or initial conditions, these must be described in additional detail including the nature of implementation.
  • Physics restrictions (boundary layer theory, inviscid, parabolized Navier-Stokes, …): If the solution requires the solution of a reduced or restricted set of equations, this must be fully described. Examples are boundary layer theory, truly inviscid flow, or various asymptotic limits.
  • Software quality documents: Of non-commercial software used to produce solutions, the software quality pedigree should be clearly established by documenting the software quality and steps taken to assure the maintenance of the quality.
  • Scripts and auxiliary software for verification: Auxiliary software or scripts used to determine the verification or compute error estimates for a software used to produce solution should be included.
  • Source code: If possible the actual source code for the software along with instructions for producing an executable (makefile, scripts) should be included with all other documentation.
  • A full mathematical or computational description of metrics used in error analysis and evaluation of solution implementation or numerical solution.
  • Verification results including code version, date, and other identifying characteristics: The verification basis for the code used to produce the baseline solution must be included. This includes any documentation of verification, peer-review, code version, date completed and error estimates.
  • Feature coverage in verification: The code features covered by verification benchmarks must be documented. Any gaps where the feature used for the baseline solution are not verified must be explicitly documented.

Below are the necessary data requirements for each category of benchmark, again arranged in order of increasing level of documentation required. For completeness each data type would expected to be available to describe a benchmark of a given type.

  • Common elements for all types of benchmarks (it is notable that the use of proper verification using an analytical solution results in the most compact set of requirements for data, manufactured solutions also).
  1. Paper or report
  2. Mathematical analysis
  3. Computerized solution and input
  4. Error and uncertainty analysis
  5. Computer implementation of the evaluation of the solution
  6. Restrictions
  7. Boundary or initial conditions
  • Closed form analytical solution
  1. Paper or report
  2. Mathematical analysis
  3. Computerized solution and input
  4. Error and uncertainty analysis
  5. Computer implementation of the evaluation of the solution
  6. Restrictions
  7. Boundary or initial conditions
  • Manufactured Solution
  1. Paper or report
  2. Mathematical analysis
  3. Computational solution and input
  4. Error and uncertainty analysis
  5. Computer implementation of the evaluation of the solution
  6. Derivation and implementation of the source term
  7. Restrictions
  8. Boundary or initial conditions
  • Numerical solution with analytical solution
  • Series solution, Nonlinear algebraic solution, Nonlinear ODE solution
  1. Paper or report
  2. Mathematical analysis
  3. Computerized solution and input
  4. Error and uncertainty analysis
  5. Computer implementation of the evaluation of the solution
  6. Input files
  7. Source code
  8. Source code SQA
  9. Method description and manual
  10. Restrictions
  11. Boundary or initial conditions
  • Highly accurate numerical solution (not analytical), numerical benchmarks or code-to-code comparisons.
  1. Paper or report
  2. Mathematical analysis
  3. Computational solution and input
  4. Error and uncertainty analysis for the solution
  5. Computer implementation of the evaluation of the solution
  6. Input files
  7. Grids
  8. Source code
  9. Source code SQA
  10. Method description and manual
  11. Method analysis
  12. Method verification analysis and coverage
  13. Restrictions
  14. Boundary or initial conditions

The use of direct numerical simulation requires a similar or even higher level of documentation than analytical solutions. This coincides with the discussion of the last type of verification benchmark where a complex numerical method with significant approximations is utilized to produce the solution. As a numerically computed benchmark, the burden of proof is much larger.   Code verification is best served by exact analytical solutions because of the relative ease in assuring benchmark solution accuracy. Nonetheless, it remains a common practice due to its inherent simplicity. It also appeals to those who have a vested interest in the solutions produced by a certain computer code. The credibility of the comparison is predicated on the credibility of the code producing the “benchmark” used as the surrogate for truth. Therefore the documentation of the benchmark must provide the basis for the credibility.

dag006The use of DNS as a surrogate for experimental data has received significant attention. This practice violates the fundamental definition of validation we have adopted because no observation of the physical world is used to define the data. This practice also raises other difficulties, which we will elaborate upon. First the DNS code itself requires that the verification basis further augmented by a validation basis for its application.   This includes all the activities that would define a validation study including experimental uncertainty analysis numerical and physical equation based error analysis. Most commonly, the DNS serves to provide validation, but the DNS contains approximation errors that must be estimated as part of the “error bars” for the data. Furthermore, the code must have documented credibility beyond the details of the calculation used as data. This level of documentation again takes the form of the last form of verification benchmark introduced above because of the nature of DNS codes. For this reason we include DNS as a member of this family of benchmarks.

There are two ways to do great mathematics. The first is to be smarter than everybody else. The second way is to be stupider than everybody else — but persistent.

― Raoul Bott

Banks, Jeffrey W., T. Aslam, and William J. Rider. “On sub-linear convergence for linearly degenerate waves in capturing schemes.” Journal of Computational Physics 227, no. 14 (2008): 6985-7002.

Greenough, J. A., and W. J. Rider. “A quantitative comparison of numerical methods for the compressible Euler equations: fifth-order WENO and piecewise-linear Godunov.” Journal of Computational Physics 196, no. 1 (2004): 259-281.

Kamm, James R., Jerry S. Brock, Scott T. Brandon, David L. Cotrell, Bryan Johnson, Patrick Knupp, W. Rider, T. Trucano, and V. Gregory Weirs. Enhanced verification test suite for physics simulation codes. No. LLNL-TR-411291. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Livermore, CA, 2008.

Rider, J., James R. Kamm, and V. Gregory Weirs. “Verification, Validation and Uncertainty Quantification Workflow in CASL.” Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories (2010).

Rider, William J., James R. Kamm, and V. Gregory Weirs. “Procedures for Calculation Verification.” Simulation Credibility (2016): 31.

How’s? What’s? Why’s?

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
― Friedrich Nietzsche

At work we often justify the research we do through declaring that it is mission-relevant, or mission-focused. The work is automatically important and necessary if it supports our mission. Defining the mission is then essential to this conversation. Currently in my work, the discussion of what the mission is focuses on high performance computing. The pregnant question is whether my work’s mission is high performance computing?Crays-Titan-Supercomputer

I unilaterally reject this as a mission.

High performance computing is a “how” and so is “modeling and simulation” for that matter. Both things are tools to conduct science and engineering specialized to a purpose. Neither is a viable mission or reason in and of itself. Missions are better defined as “what’s” like nuclear weapons, economic competitiveness or scientific investigation. The high performance computing is how modeling and simulation is done, which is how aspects of nuclear weapons work or science or industrial work is done, but certainly not all of any of these. We still haven’t gotten to why we do these things. Why we fund high performance computing for modeling and simulation to support the nuclear weapons stockpile is an intricate question worth some further exploration.

A knee jerk response is “National Security,” which avoids a deeper discussion. The defense of a Nation State is associated with ability of the citizens of that Nation to imgresachieve a degree of access to resources that raise their access to a good life. With more resources the citizens can aspire toward a better, easier more fulfilled life. In essence the security of a Nation can allow people to exist higher on Maslow’s hierarchy needs. In the United States this is commonly expressed as “freedom”. Freedom is a rather superficial thing when used as a slogan. The needs of the citizens begin with having food and shelter than allow them to aspire toward a sense of personal safety. Societal safety is one means of achieving this (not that safety and security are pretty low on the hierarchy). With these in hand, the sense of community can be pursued and then sense of an esteemed self. Finally we get to the peak and the ability to pursue ones full personal potential.

At the lowest part of the hierarchy is subsistence, the need for basic resources to surviveimages. If one exists at this level, life isn’t very good, but its achievement is necessary for a better life. Gradually one moves up the hierarchy requiring greater access to resources and ease of maintaining the lower positions on the hierarchy. A vibrant National Security should allow this to happen, the richer a Nation becomes the higher on the hierarchy of needs its citizens reside. It is with some recognition of irony that my efforts and the Nation is stuck at such a low level on the hierarchy. Efforts toward bolstering the community the Nation forms seem to be too difficult to achieve today. We seem to be regressing from being a community or achieving personal fulfillment. We are stuck trying to be safe and secure. The question is whether those in the Nation can effectively provide the basis for existing high on the hierarchy of needs without being there themselves?

My observation about my work is that the people doing the work to support National Security are moving to lower and lower levels of the hierarchy by being isolated from the “why’s” of their work, and pushed into a subsistence existence focused on the “how’s”. Increasingly the work is even divorced from the “what’s” and the “why” is never even considered. As a result people simply do what they are told without considering what it is for, or why they are doing it. The result is a decline in the quality and applicability of the foundational work, which should adapt to the needs of its use and inspired by the underlying reasons. This issue is rampant in high performance computing where its utility for modeling and simulation is intellectually threadbare, and those working in computing barely consider what any of their work will be used for.

We are seeing our scientific community pushed to ever lower rungs Maslow’s pyramid. Part of this is the pervasive distrust of experts and education in the United States and perhaps the entirety of the West. These problems are harbingers of decline and hardly support the expansion and vibrancy of democracy or freedom.




Good Validation Practices are our Greatest Opportunity to Advance Modeling and Simulation

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is … If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

― Richard Feynman

It is an oft-stated maxim that we should grasp the lowest hanging fruit. In real life this often is hidden in plain sight with modeling and simulation being a prime example in my mind. Even a casual observer could see that the emphasis today is focused on computing speed and power as the path to the future. At the same time one can also see that the push for faster computers is foolhardy and hardly comes at an 500x343xintel-500x343.jpg.pagespeed.ic.saP0PghQP9opportune time. Moore’s law is dead, and may be dead at all scales of computation. It may be the highest hanging fruit pursued at great cost while lower hanging fruits rots away without serious attention, or even conscious neglect. Perhaps nothing typifies this issue more than the state of validation in modeling and simulation.

Validation can be simply stated, but is immensely complex to do correctly. Simply put, validation is the comparison of observations with modeling and simulation results with the intent of understanding the fitness of the model for its intended purpose. More correctly, it is an assessment of modeling correctness, which demands observational data to ground the comparison in reality. It involves deep understanding of experimental and observational science including inherent error and uncertainty. It also involves equally deep understanding of errors and uncertainty of the model. It must be couched in the proper context philosophically including understanding what a model is. Each of these endeavors is in itself a complex and difficult professional activity, and validation is the synthesis of all of it. Being so complex and difficult it is rarely done correctly, and its value is grossly underappreciated. A large part of the reason for this state of affairs is the tendency to completely accept genuinely shoddy validation. I used to give a talk on the validation horrors in the published literature and finding targets for critique basically comes down to looking at almost any paper that does validation. The hard part is finding examples where the validation is done well.


One of the greatest tenets of modeling is the quote by George Box, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” We have failed to recognize one of the most important, but poorly appreciate maxims of modeling and simulation and corollary to Box’s observation. It is that no amount of computer speed, algorithmic efficiency or accuracy of approximation can make a bad model better. If the model is wrong, solving it faster or more accurately or more efficiently will not improve it. A question that should immediately come to mind “what is useful?” “what is a bad?” and “what is better?” In a deep sense both of these questions are completely answered by a comprehensive validation assessment of the simulation of a model. One needs to define what is bad and what is better. Both concepts depend deeply upon deciding what one wants from a model. What is its point and purpose, and most likely what question is it designed to answer. A question to start things off first understands, “what is a model?”

images“What is a model?”

A model is virtually everything associated with a simulation including the code itself, the input to the code, the computer used for the computation, and the analysis of the results. Together all these elements comprise the model. At the core of the model and the code are the theoretical equations being used simulating the real World? More often than not, this is a system of differential equations or something more complex (like integral differential equations for example). These equations are then solved using methods, approximations and algorithms all of which leave their imprint on the results. Putting all of this involves creating a computer code, creating a discrete description of the World and computing that result. Each of these steps constitutes a part of the model. Once the computation has been completed, the results need to analyze and results drawn out of the mountain of numbers produced by the computer. All of these comprise the model we are validating. To separate one thing from another requires good disciplined work and lots of rigor. Usually this discipline is lacking and rigor is replaced by assumptions and slothful practices. In very many cases we are watching willful ignorance in action, or simple negligence. We know how to do validation; we simply don’t demand that people practice it. People are often comforted not knowing and don’t want to actually understand the depth of their structural ignorance.

Science is not about making predictions or performing experiments. Science is about explaining.

― Bill Gaede

Observing and understanding are two different things.

― Mary E. Pearson

vyxvbzwxTo conduct a validation assessment you need observations to compare to. This is an absolute necessity; if you have no observational data, you have no validation. Once the data is at hand, you need to understand how good it is. This means understanding how uncertain the data is. This uncertainty can come from three major aspects of the process: errors in measurement, errors in statistics, and errors in interpretation. In the order of how these were mentioned each of these categories become more difficult to assess and less common to actually be assessed in practice. Most commonly assessed is measurement error that is the uncertainty of the value of a measured quantity. This is a function of the measurement technology or the inference of the quantity from other data. The second aspect is associated with the statistical nature of the measurement. Is the observation or experiment repeatable? If it is not how much might the measured value differ due to changes in the system being observed? How typical are the measured values? In many cases this issue is ignored in a willfully ignorant manner. Finally, the hardest part of observational bias often defined as answering the question, “how do we know that we a measuring what we think we are?” Is there something systematic in our observed system that we have not accounted for that might be changing our observations. This may come from some sort of problem in calibrating measurements, or looking at the observed system in a manner that is inconsistent. These all lead to potential bias and distortion of the measurements.

imagesThe intrinsic benefit of this approach is a systematic investigation of the ability of the model to produce the features of reality. Ultimately the model needs to produce the features of reality that we care about, and can measure. This combination is good to balance in the process of validation, the ability to produce the reality necessary to conduct engineering and science, but also general observations. A really good confidence builder is the ability of model to produce proper results on things that we care as well as those don’t care about. One of the core issues is the high probability that many of the things we care about in a model cannot be observed, and the model acts as an inference device for science. In this case the observations act to provide confidence that the model’s inferences can be trusted. One of the keys to the whole enterprise is understanding the uncertainty intrinsic to these inferences, and good validation provides essential information for this.

One of the things few people recognize is the inability of other means to provide remediation from problems with the model. If a model is flawed there is no amount of computer power that can rectify its shortcomings. A computer of infinite speed would (should) only make the problems more apparent. This obvious outcome only becomes available with a complete, rigorous and focused validation of the model. Slipshod validation practices simply allow the wrong model to be propagated without necessary feedback. It is bad science plain and simple. No numerical method or algorithm in the code could provide relief either. The leadership in high performance computing is utterly oblivious to this. As a result almost no effort whatsoever is being put into validation, and models are being propagated forward without any thought regarding their validity. No serious effort exists to put the models to the test either. If our leadership is remotely competent this is an act of willful ignorance, i.e., negligence. While our models today are wonderful in many regards, they are far from perfect (remember what George Box said!). A well-structured scientific and engineering enterprise would make this evident, and employ means to improving them. These new models would open broad new vistas of utility in science and engineering. A lack of recognition of this opportunity makes modeling and simulation self-limiting in its impact.

A prime example where our modeling and simulation are deficient is reproducing the variability seen in the real World. In many cases the experimental practice is equally deficient. For most phenomena of genuine interest and challenge, events and engineered products the exact same response cannot be produced. There are variations in the response because of small differences in the system being studied coming from external conditions (boundary conditions) or the state of system (initial conditions), or simply a degree of heterogeneous character in the system itself. In many cases the degree of variation in response is very large and terribly important. In engineered systems this leads to the application of large and expensive safety factors along with the risk of disaster. This depends to some extent on the nature of the response be sought. The more localized the response, the greater the tendency to be variable, while global-integrated responses can be far more reliably reproduced.

Crays-Titan-SupercomputerOur scientific and engineering attention is being drawn increasingly to the local responses for significant events, and their importance is growing. These are often worst-case conditions that we strive to avoid. At the same time our models are completely ill suited to address these responses. Our models cannot effectively simulate these sorts of features. Our models are almost without exception focused on a mean-field model producing a model of the average system involving far more homogeneous properties and responses than seen in reality. As such the extremes in response are removed a priori. By the same token our observational and experimental practices are not arrayed to unveil this increasingly essential aspect of reality. The ability of modeling and simulation to impact the real World effectively suffers and its impact is limited by failing to progress.

…if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

― Richard Feynman

incompetencedemotivatorOne of the greatest issues in validation is “negligible” errors and uncertainties. In many cases these errors are negligible by assertion and no evidence is given. A standing suggestion is that any negligible error or uncertainty be given a numerical value along with evidence for that value. If this cannot be done, the assertion is most likely to be specious, or at least poorly thought through. If you know it is small then you should know how small and why. It is more likely is that it is based on some combination of laziness and wishful thinking. In other cases this practice is an act of negligence, and worse yet it is simply willful ignorance on the part of practitioners. This is an equal opportunity issue for computational modeling and experiments. Often (almost always!) numerical errors are completely ignored in validation. The most brazen violators will simply assert without evidence that the errors are small or the calculated is converged without offering any evidence beyond authority.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

― Daniel J. Boorstin

Similarly, in experiments measurements will be offered without any measurement error, and often no evidence along with an assertion that the error is too small to be concerned about. Experimental or observational results are also highly prone to ignore variability in outcomes and treat each case as a well-determined result even when the physics of the problem is strongly dependent on the details of the initial conditions (or the prevailing models strongly imply this!). Similar sins are committed with modeling uncertainties where an incomplete assessment is made of uncertainty, and no accounting is made of the incompleteness and its impact. To make matters worse other obvious sources of uncertainty are ignored. The result of these patterns of conduct is an almost universal under-estimate of uncertainty from both modeling and observations. This under-estimate results in modeling and simulation being applied in a manner that is non-conservative from a decision-making perspective.

The result of these rather sloppy practices is a severely limited capacity to properly offer an assessment of model validation. Using rather complete uncertainties can produce the sort of result needed to produce definitive results that offer feedback on modeling. If uncertainties can be driven small enough we can drive improvement in the underlying science and engineering. For example, very precise and well-controlled experiments with small uncertainties can produce evidence that models must be improved. Exceptionally small modeling uncertainty could produce a similar effect in pushing experiments. Too often the work is conducted with a strong confirmation bias that takes the possibility of model incorrectness off the table. The result is a stagnant situation where models are not improving and shoddy professional practice is accepted. All of this stems from a lack of understanding or priority for proper validation assessment.

Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.

― Eoin Colfer

A mature realization for scientists is that validation is never complete. Models are validated, not codes. The model is a broad set of simulation features, including the model equations, and the code, but also a huge swath of other things. The validation is simply an assessment of all those things. This assessment looks at whether the model and the data are consistent with each other given the uncertainties in each. This assessment is predicated on the completeness of the uncertainty estimation. In the grand scheme of things one wants drive the uncertainties down in either the model or the observations of reality. The big scientific endeavor is locating the source of error in the model; is it in how the model is solved? Or are the model equations flawed? A flawed theoretical model can be a major scientific result requiring a deep theoretical response. Repairing these flaws can open new doors of understanding and drive our knowledge forward in miraculous ways. We need to adopt practices that allow us to identify problems that new models are needed for. The current modeling and simulation practice removes this outcome as a possibility at the outset.

A man is responsible for his ignorance.

― Milan Kundera

Rider, William J. A Rogue’s Gallery of V&V Practice. No. SAND2009-4667C. Sandia National Laboratories (SNL-NM), Albuquerque, NM (United States), 2009.

Rider, William J. What Makes A Calculation Good? Or Bad?. No. SAND2011-7666C. Sandia National Laboratories (SNL-NM), Albuquerque, NM (United States), 2011.

Rider, William J. What is verification and validation (and what is not!)?. No. SAND2010-1954C. Sandia National Laboratories, 2010.

Tricks of the trade: Making a method robust

Rigor alone is paralytic death, but imagination alone is insanity.

― Gregory Bateson

Solving hyperbolic conservation laws provides a rich vein of knowledge to mine and utilize more generally. Most canonically this involves solving the equations of gas dynamics, but the lessons apply to a host of other equations such as magneto-hydrodynamics, multi-material hydrodynamics, oil-water flow, solid mechanics, and on and on. Gas dynamics is commonly visible in the real world, and includes lots of nonlinearity, structure and complexity to contend with. The structures and complexity includes compressible flow structures such as shock waves, rarefactions and contract discontinuities. In more than one dimension you have shear waves, and instabilities that ultimately lead to turbulent flows. With all of these complications to deal with, these flows present numerous challenges to their robust, reliable and accurate simulation. As such, gas dynamics provides a great springboard for robust methods in many fields as well as a proving ground for much of applied math, engineering and physics. It provides a wonderful canvas for the science and art of modeling and simulation to be improved in the vain, but beneficial atimagestempt at perfection.

Getting a basic working code can come through a variety of ways using some basic methods that provide lots of fundamental functionality. Some of the common options are TVD methods (ala Sweby for example), high order Godunov methods (ala Colella et al), FCT methods (ala Zalesak), or even WENO (Shu and company). For some of these methods the tricks leading to robustness make it into print (Colella, Zalesak come to mind in this regard). All of these will give a passable to even a great solution to most problems, but still all of them can be pushed over the edge with a problem that’s hard enough. So what defines a robust calculation? Let’s say you’ve taken my advice and brutalized your code and now you need to fix your method This post will provide you with a bunch of ideas about techniques, or recipes to get you across that finish line.

You can’t really know what you are made of until you are tested.

― O.R. Melling

The starting basis for getting a robust code is choosing a good starting point, a strong foundation to work from. Each of the methods above would to a significant degree define this. Opinions differ on which of the available options are best, so I won’t be prescriptive about it (I prefer high-order Godunov methods in the interest of transparency). For typical academic problems, this foundation can be drawn from a wide range of available methods, but these methods often are not up to the job in “real” codes. There are a lot more things to add to a method to get you all the way to a production code. These are more than just bells and whistles; the techniques discussed here can be the difference between success and failure. Usually these tricks of the trade are found through hard fought battles and failures. Each failure offers the opportunity to produce something better and avoid problems. The best recipes produce reliable results for the host of problems you ask the code to solve. A great method won’t fall apart when you ask it to do something new either.

The methods discussed above all share some common things. First and foremost is reliance upon a close to bulletproof first order method as the ground state for the higher order method. This is the first step in building robust methods, start with a first-order method that is very reliable and almost guaranteed to give a physically admissible solution. This is easier said than done for general cases. We know that theoretically the lowest dissipation method with all the necessary characteristics is Godunov’s method (see Osher’s work from the mid-1980’s). At the other end of the useful first-order method spectrum is Lax-Friedrichs method, the most dissipative stable method. In a sense these methods give us our bookends. Any method we use as a foundation will be somewhere between these two. Still coming up with a good foundational first-order method is itself an art. The key is choosing a Riemann solver that provides a reliable solution under even pathological circumstances (in lieu of a Riemann solver, a dissipation that is super reliable).

You cannot build a dream on a foundation of sand. To weather the test of storms, it must be cemented in the heart with uncompromising conviction.

― T.F. Hodge

Without further ado let’s get to the techniques that one ought to use. The broadest category of techniques involves adding smart dissipation to methods. This acknowledges that the methods we are using already have a lot of dissipative mechanisms built into them. As a result the added dissipation needs to be selective as hell. The starting point is a careful statement of where the methods already have dissipation. Usually it lies in two distinct places, the most obvious being Riemann solvers or artificial viscosity. The Riemann solver adds an upwind bias to the approximation, which has an implicit dissipative content. The second major source of dissipation is the discretization itself, which can include biases that provide implicit dissipation. For sufficiently complex or nonlinear problems the structural dissipation in the methods are not enough for nonlinear stability. One of the simplest forms for this dissipation is the addition of another dissipative form. For Godunov methods the Lapidus viscosity can be useful because it works at shocks, and adds a multidimensional character. Other viscosity can be added through the Riemann solvers (via so-called entropy fixes, or selecting larger wavespeeds since dissipation is proportional to that). It is important that the dissipation be mechanistically different than the base viscosity, meaning that hyperviscosity ( can really be useful to augment dissipation. A general principle is to provide multiple alternative routes to nonlinear stability to support each other effectively.

The building blocks that form the foundation of your great and successful future, are the actions you take today

― Topsy Gift

The second source of dissipation is the fundamental discretization, which implicitly provides it. One of the key aspects of modern discretization are limiters that provide nonlinear stability through effectively adapting the discretization to the solution. These limiters come in various forms, but they all provide the means for the method to choose a favorable discretization for the nature of the solution (,, ). One of the ways for additional dissipation to enter the method is through a deliberate choice of different limiters. One can bias the adaptive selection of discretization toward more dissipative methods when the solution calls for more care. These choices are important to make when solutions have shock waves, complex nonlinear structures, oscillations, or structural anomalies. For example the minmod limiter based method is the most dissipative second-order, monotonicity-preserving method. It can be used as a less dissipative alternative safety net instead of the first-order methods although its safety is predicated on a bulletproof first order method as a foundation.

Except for all but the most ideal circumstances, the added dissipation is not sufficient to produce a robust method. Very strong nonlinear events that confound classical analysis can still produce problems. All oscillations are very difficult to remove from the solutions and can work to produce distinct threats to the complete stability of the solution. Common ways to deal with these issues in a rather extreme manner are floors and ceilings for various variables. One of the worst things that can happen is a physical quantity moving outside its physically admissible bounds. The simplest example is a density going negative. Density is a positive definite quantity and needs to stay that way for the solution to be physical. It behooves robustness to make sure this does not happen. If it does it is usually catastrophic for the code. This is a simple case and in general quantities should lie within reasonable bounds. Usually when quantities fall outside reasonable bounds the code’s solutions are compromised. It makes sense to explicitly guard against this specifically where a quantity being out of bounds would general a catastrophic effect. For example, sound speeds involve densities and pressure plus a square root operation; a negative value would be disaster.

One can take things a long way toward robustness through using methods that more formally produce bounded approximations. The general case of positivity, or more bounded approximation has been pursued actively. I described the implementation of methods of this sort earlier, ( ). These methods can go a very long way to giving the robust character one desires, but other means discussed above are still necessary. A large production code with massive meshes and long run times will access huge swaths of phase space and as the physical complexity of problems increases, almost anything that can happen will. It is foolish to assume that bad states will not occur. One also must contend with people using the code in ways the developers never envisioned, and putting the solver into situations where it must survive even when it was designed for them. As a consequence it would be foolish to completely remove the sorts of checks that avert disaster (this could be done, but only with rigorous testing far beyond what most people ever do).

What to concretely do is another question where there are multiple options. One can institute a floating-point trap that locally avoids the possibility of using a negative value for the square root. This can be done in a variety of ways with differing benefits and pitfalls. One simple approach is to take the square root of the absolute value, or one might choose the max of the density and some sort of small floor value. This does little to address the core reason that the approximations produced an unphysical value. There is also little control on the magnitude of the density (the value can be very small), which has rather unpleasant side effects. A better approach would get closer to the root of the problems, which almost without fail comes from the inappropriate application of high-order approximations. One way for this to be applied is to replace the high-order approximations with a physically admissible low-order approximation. This relies upon the guarantees associated with the low-order (first order) approximation as a general safety net for the computational method. The reality is that the first-order method can also go bad, and the floating-point trap may or certainly be necessary even there.

A basic part of the deterministic solution to many problems is the ability to maintain symmetry. The physical world almost invariably breaks symmetry, but it is arguable that numerical solutions to the PDEs should not (I could provide the alternative argument vigorously too). If you want to maintain such symmetry, the code must be carefully designed to do this. A big source of the symmetry breaking is upwind approximations, especially if one choses a bias where zero isn’t carefully and symmetrically treated. One approach is the use of smoothed operators that I discussed at length (,, ). More generally the use of “if” tests in the code will break symmetry. Another key area for symmetry breaking is the solution of linear systems by methods that are not symmetry preserving. This means numerical linear algebra needs to be carefully approached.

images-1For gas dynamics, the mathematics of the model provide us with some very general character to the problems we solve. Shock waves are the preeminent feature of compressible gas dynamics, and a relatively predominant focal point for methods’ development and developer attention. Shock waves are nonlinear and naturally steepen thus countering dissipative effects. Shocks benefit through their character as garbage collectors, they are dissipative features and as a result destroy information. Some of this destruction limits the damage done by poor choices of numerical treatment. Being nonlinear one has to be careful with shocks. The very worst thing you can do is to add too little dissipation because this will allow the solution to generate unphysical noise or oscillations that are emitted by the shock. These oscillations will then become features of the solution. A lot of the robustness we seek comes from not producing oscillations, which can be best achieved with generous dissipation at shocks. Shocks receive so much attention because their improper treatment is utterly catastrophic, but they are not the only issue; the others are just more subtle and less apparently deadly.

Rarefactions are the benign compatriot to shocks. Rarefactions do not steepen and usually offer modest challenges to computations. Rarefactions produce no dissipation and their spreading nature reduces the magnitude of anything anomalous produced by the simulation. Despite their ease relative to shock waves, the rarefactions do produce some distinct challenges. The simplest case involves centered rarefactions where the characteristic velocity of the rarefaction goes to zero. Since dissipation in methods is proportional to the characteristic velocity, the presence of zero dissipation can trigger disaster and can generate completely unphysical rarefaction shocks (rarefaction shocks can be physical for exotic BZT fluids). More generally for very strong rarefactions one can see small and very worrisome deviations from adhering to the second law, these should be viewed with significant suspicion. The other worrisome feature of most computed rarefactions is the structure of the head of the rarefaction. Usually there is a systematic bump there that is not physical and may produce unphysical solutions for problems featuring very strong expansion waves. This bump actually looks like a shock when viewed through the lens of Lax’s version of the entropy conditions (based on characteristic velocities). This is an unsolved problem at present and represents a challenge to our gas dynamics simulations. The basic issue is that a strong enough rarefaction cannot be solved in an accurate, convergent manner by existing methods.

A third outstanding feature of gas dynamics are contact discontinuities, which are classified as linearly degenerate waves. They are quite similar to linear waves meaning that the characteristics do not change across the wave; for the ideal analysis the jumps neither steepen nor spread across the wave. One of the key results is that any numerical error is permanently encoded into the solution. One needs to be careful with dissipation because it never goes away. For this reason people consider steepening the wave to keep it from artificially spreading. It is a bit of an attempt to endow the contact with a little of the character of a shock courting potential catastrophe in the process. This can be dangerous if it is applied to with an interaction with a nonlinear wave, or instability for multidimensional flows. Another feature of the contact is their connection to multi-material interfaces as a material interface can ideally be viewed as a contact. Multi-material flows are a deep well of significant problems and a topic of great depth unto themselves (Abgrall and Karni is an introduction which barely scratches the surface!).

IMG_5467The fourth standard feature is shear waves, which are a different form of linearly degenerate waves. Shear waves are heavily related to turbulence, thus being a huge source of terror. In one dimension shear is rather innocuous being just another contact, but in two or three dimensions our current knowledge and technical capabilities are quickly overwhelmed. Once you have a turbulent flow, one must deal with the conflation of numerical error, and modeling becomes a pernicious aspect of a calculation. In multiple dimensions the shear is almost invariably unstable and solutions become chaotic and boundless in terms of complexity. This boundless complexity means that solutions are significantly mesh dependent, and demonstrably non-convergent in a point wise sense. There may be a convergence in a measure-valued sense, but these concepts are far from well defined, fully explored and technically agreed upon.

A couple of general tips for developing a code involves the choice of solution variables. All most without fail, the worst thing you can do is define the approximations using the conserved quantities. This is almost always a more fragile and error prone manner to compute solutions. In general the best approach is to use the so-called primitive variables ( ). The variables are clear in their physical implications and can be well-bounded using rational means. Using primitive variables is better for almost anything you want to do. The second piece of advice is to use characteristic variables to as great an extent as possible. This always implies some sort of one-dimensional thought. Despite this limitation, the benefits of characteristic variables are so extreme as to justify their use even under these limited circumstances.

A really good general rule is to produce thermodyanically consistent solutions. In other words, don’t mess with thermodynamic consistency, and particularly with the second law of thermodynamics. Parts of this thermodynamic consistency are the dissipative nature of physical solutions and the active adherence to entropy conditions. There are several nuances to this adherence that are worth discussing in more depth. It is generally and commonly known that shocks increase entropy. What isn’t so widely appreciated is the nature of this increase being finite and adheres to a scaling that is proportional to the size of the jump. The dissipation does not converge toward zero, but rather toward a finite value related to the structure of the solution.

The second issue is dissipation free nature of the rest of the flow especially rarefactioimgres copy 3ns. The usual aim of solvers is to completely remove dissipation, but that runs the risk of violating the second law. It may be more advisable to keep a small positive dissipation working (perhaps using a hyperviscosity partially because control volumes add a nonlinear anti-dissipative error). This way the code stays away from circumstances that violate this essential physical law. We can work with other forms of entropy satisfaction too. Most notably is Lax’s condition that identifies the structures in a flow by the local behavior of the relevant characteristics of the flow. Across a shock the characteristics flow into the shock, and this condition should be met with dissipation. These structures are commonly present in the head of rarefactions.

One of the big things that can be done to improve solutions is the systematic use of high-order approximations within methods. These high-order elements often involve formal accuracy that is much higher than the overall accuracy of the methods. For example a fourth-order approximation to the first derivative can be used to great effect with a method that only provides an overall second-order accuracy. With methods like PPM and FCT this can be taken to greater extremes. There one might use a fifth or sixth-order approximation for edge values even though the overall method is third order in one dimension or second-order in two or three dimensions. Another aspect of high order accuracy is better accuracy at local extrema. A usual approach to limiting to provide nonlinear stability clips extrema and computes them at first-order accuracy. In moving to limiters that do not clip extrema so harshly, excessive care must be taken so that the resulting method is not fragile and prone to oscillations. Alternatively, extrema-preserving methods can be developed that are relatively dissipative even compared to the better extrema clipping methods. Weighted ENO methods of almost any stripe are examples where the lack of extrema clipping is purchased at the cost of significant dissipation and relatively low overall computational fidelity. A better overall approach would be to use metlogohods I have devised or the MP methods of Suresh and Huynh. Both of these methods are significantly more accurate than WENO methods.

One of the key points of this work is to make codes robust. Usually these techniques are originally devised as “kludges” that are crude and poorly justified. They have the virtue of working. The overall development effort is to guide these kludges into genuinely defensible methods, and then ultimately to algorithms. One threads the needle between robust solutions and technical rigor that lends confidence and faith in the simulation. The first rule is get an answer, then get a reasonable answer, then get an admissible answer, and then get an accurate answer. The challenges come through the systematic endeavor to solve problems of ever increasing difficulty and expand the capacity of simulations to address an ever-broader scope. We then balance this effort with the availability of knowledge to support the desired rigor. Our standards are arrived at philosophically through what constitutes an acceptable solution to our modeling problems.

Consistency and accuracy instills believability

― Bernard Kelvin Clive

Sweby, Peter K. “High resolution schemes using flux limiters for hyperbolic conservation laws.” SIAM journal on numerical analysis 21, no. 5 (1984): 995-1011.

Jiang, Guang-Shan, and Chi-Wang Shu. “Efficient implementation of weighted ENO schemes.” Journal of computational physics 126, no. 1 (1996): 202-228.

Colella, Phillip, and Paul R. Woodward. “The piecewise parabolic method (PPM) for gas-dynamical simulations.” Journal of computational physics 54, no. 1 (1984): 174-201.

Colella, Phillip. “A direct Eulerian MUSCL scheme for gas dynamics.” SIAM Journal on Scientific and Statistical Computing 6, no. 1 (1985): 104-117.

Bell, John B., Phillip Colella, and John A. Trangenstein. “Higher order Godunov methods for general systems of hyperbolic conservation laws.” Journal of Computational Physics 82, no. 2 (1989): 362-397.

Zalesak, Steven T. “Fully multidimensional flux-corrected transport algorithms for fluids.” Journal of computational physics 31, no. 3 (1979): 335-362.

Zalesak, Steven T. “The design of Flux-Corrected Transport (FCT) algorithms for structured grids.” In Flux-Corrected Transport, pp. 23-65. Springer Netherlands, 2012.

Quirk, James J. “A contribution to the great Riemann solver debate.” International Journal for Numerical Methods in Fluids 18, no. 6 (1994): 555-574.

Woodward, Paul, and Phillip Colella. “The numerical simulation of two-dimensional fluid flow with strong shocks.” Journal of computational physics 54, no. 1 (1984): 115-173.

Abgrall, Rémi, and Smadar Karni. “Computations of compressible multifluids.” Journal of computational physics 169, no. 2 (2001): 594-623.

Osher, Stanley. “Riemann solvers, the entropy condition, and difference.” SIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis 21, no. 2 (1984): 217-235.

Suresh, A., and H. T. Huynh. “Accurate monotonicity-preserving schemes with Runge–Kutta time stepping.” Journal of Computational Physics 136, no. 1 (1997): 83-99.

Rider, William J., Jeffrey A. Greenough, and James R. Kamm. “Accurate monotonicity-and extrema-preserving methods through adaptive nonlinear hybridizations.” Journal of Computational Physics 225, no. 2 (2007): 1827-1848.



We all live in incredibly exciting times; It totally sucks

The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

There is little doubt that we are living through monumental times in the history of humanity. I was born the child of the Cold War seeing that conflict end as I transitioned to adulthood and my professional life then seeing the birth of globalism powered by ArtilleryShelltechnology and communication unthinkable a generation before. My chosen profession looks increasingly like a relic of that Cold War, and increasingly irrelevant to the World that unfolds before me. My workplace is failing to keep pace with change, and I’m seeing it fall behind modernity in almost every respect. It’s a safe, secure job, but lacks most of the edge the real World offers. All of the forces unleashed in today’s World make for incredible excitement, possibility, incredible terror and discomfort. The potential for humanity is phenomenal, and the risks are profound. In short, we live in simultaneously in incredibly exciting and massively sucky times. Yes, both of these seemingly conflicting things can be true.

We are seeing a massive collision of the past and future across the globe pitting the forces of stability and progress against each other. We see the political power of conservative, anti-progress forces gaining the upper hand recently. The resurgent right wing seeks to push back against the changes pushed by demographics and empowered by technology. The reinvigorated tendency to use bigotry, hate and hqdefaultviolence increasingly in a state-sponsored way is increasing. The violence against change is growing whether it is by governments or terrorists. What isn’t commonly appreciated is the alliance in violence of the right wing and terrorists. Both are fighting against the sorts of changes modernity is bringing. The fight against terror is giving the violent right wing more power. The right wing and Islamic terrorists have the same aim, undoing the push toward progress with modern views of race, religion and morality. The only difference is the name of the prophet the violence is done in name of.

This unholy alliance draws its power from the bookends of society. On one hand you have the poorer, uneducated masses of the population, and on the other you have the entrenched interests of the rich and powerful. The poor and uneducated are not able to manage the changes in society and want the brakes put on progress. The rich and powerful like the status quo and fear progress because it might not favor them as well. Together they ally against the middle class, who stands to benefit the most from progress. The alliance empowers violence among the poor, grows their ranks through polices that favor the wealthy. We see this happening across the globe where right wing, racist, Nationalist, overtly religious movements are attacking any societal progress. The rich and powerful pull the strings for their own purposes, enhancing their power and wealth at the expense of society as a whole.

The most insidious force of this unhealthy alliance is terrorism. The right wing wants to fight terrorism through enhancing the police-National-security state, maxresdefault copywhich provides the rich and powerful the tools to control their societies as well. They also wage war against the sources of terrorism creating the conditions and recruiting for more terrorists. The police states have reduced freedom and lots of censorship, imprisonment, and opposition to personal empowerment. The same police states are effective at repressing minority groups within nations using the weapons gained to fight terror. Together these all help the cause of the right wing in blunting progress. The two allies like to kill each other too, but the forces of hate; fear and doubt work to their greater ends. In fighting terrorism we are giving them exactly what they want, the reduction of our freedom and progress. This is also the aim of right wing; stop the frightening future from arriving through the imposition of traditional values. This is exactly what the religious extremists want be they Islamic or Christian.

05VOWS1-master675Driving the conservatives to such heights of violence and fear are changes to society of massive scale. Demographics are driving the changes with people of color becoming impossible to ignore, along with an aging population. Sexual freedom has emboldened people to break free of traditional boundaries of behavior, gender and relationships. Technology is accelerating the change and empowering people in amazing ways. All of this terrifies many people and provides extremists with the sort of alarmist rhetoric needed to grab power. We see these forces rushing headlong toward each other with society-wide conflict the impact. Progressive and conservative blocks are headed toward a massive fight. This also lines up along urban and rural lines, young and old, educated and uneducated. The future hangs in the balance and it is not clear who has the advantage.

The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.

― Robert F. Kennedy

The cell phone becoming a platform for communication and commerce at a scale unimaginable a decade ago has transformed the economics of the World. People are now connected globally through the cell phone, and these mini-computers allow new models of economic activity to sprout up constantly. The changes to how we live are incalculable with the cell phone shaping both our social and economic structures in deep and unforeseen ways. The social order is being shaped by the ability to connect to people in deeply personal ways without the necessity of proximity. We meet people online now and form relationships without ever meeting physically. Often people have had ongoing relationships with people they’ve never met or met rarely. They can cell-phonemaintain communication via text, audio or video with amazing ease. This starts to form different communities and relationships that are shaking culture. It’s mostly a middle class phenomenon and thus the poor are left out, and afraid.

The way we live, work, sleep, eat, and relate to each other has transformed completely in a decade. The balance of personal empowerment and threat to privacy sits at the precipice. The cell phone has made the Internet personal and ubiquitous redefining our social order. This excites people like me, and scares the shit out of others. We are seeing a change in our society at a pace unseen in the course of history. Violence is a likely result of the pace and intensity of this change. Economic displacements are accelerating, and our standard systems are poor at coping with everything. Everything from schools too many employers are incapable of evolving fast enough to benefit from the change. I perfect example are institutions like I work for. Despite being high tech and full of educated people, it is conservative, rule following, compliant, security conscious (too a paranoid level) and obsessively bureaucratic, largely incapable of adopting technology or taking risks with anything. My level of frustration is growing with each passing day. I’m seeing modernity pull ahead of me in the workplace due to fear and incompetence.

facebook-friends.jpg.pagespeed.ce_.UPAsGtTZXHFor example in my public life, I am not willing to give up the progress, and feel that the right wing is agitating to push the clock back. The right wing feels the changes are immoral and frightening and want to take freedom away. They will do it in the name of fighting terrorism while clutching the mantle of white nationalism and the Bible in the other hand. Similar mixes are present in Europe, Russia, and remarkably across the Arab world. My work World is increasingly allied with the forces against progress. I see a deep break in the not to distant future where the progress scientific research depends upon will be utterly incongruent with the values of my security-obsessed work place. The two things cannot live together effectively and ultimately the work will be undone by its inability to commit itself to being part of the modern World. The forces of progress are powerful and seemingly unstoppable too. We are seeing the unstoppable force of progress meet the immovable object of fear and oppression. It is going to be violent and sudden. My belief in progress is steadfast, and unwavering. Nonetheless, we have had episodes in human history where progress was stopped. Anyone heard of the dark ages? It can happen.

We’ll be remembered more for what we destroy than what we create.

 Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve been trying to come to grips with the changes in where I work. My workplace is adapting too slowing to modern life, and the meaning in work has become difficult to square with realities. The sense that my work doesn’t matter anymore has become increasingly palpable. I’ve gone from working for a clear sense of purpose and importance to a job that increasingly seethes with irrelevance. Every action from my masters communicates the lack of value of my work. Creating a productive and efficient workplace is never-ever important. We increasingly have no sense of importance in ourPhoneComputer work. This is delivered with disempowering edicts and policies that conspire to shackle me, and keep me from doing anything. The real message is that nothing you do is important enough to risk fucking up. I’m convinced that the things making work suck are strongly connected to everything else.

With each passing day the nature and forces at work and the rest of my life become more separate. It becomes hard to feel like I’m making the best, most productive use of my time and effort in work when I know so much effective productive effort is being left behind. The motives and rules of my employer are focused on safety and security above all else. Everything that makes modern life tick makes them uncomfortable. In addition things are evolving so fast for technology that organizations like mine cannot keep up. I can adapt quickly and learn, but if I do my desires and knowledge will become a source of tension rather than an advantage. If I keep up with technology I am more likely to be frustrated than productive. This is already happening and it is driving me up the wall.

The problem many organizations (companies, universities, Laboratories) are that they are large and move slowly. With a pace of change that is large by any historical standard, they don’t keep up or adapt. You get into a position where the organization is falling behind, and the forces of fear and hesitation are deadly. Add in a government who supplies the funding with rules galore and strings attached and you have the recipe for falling behind. Unless the organization, its leadership, and its people commit tocapitol-building-from-gala-300x200 adapting and pushing themselves forward, the organization will stagnate or be left behind by the exciting innovations shaping the World today. When the motivation of the organization fails to emphasize productivity and efficiency, the recipe is disastrous. Modern technology offers the potential for incredible advances, but only if they’re seeking advantage. If minds are not open to making things better, it is a recipe for frustration.

This ends up being a microcosm of today’s World. Modern advances in technology or society offer tremendous advantages for those willing to be bold, but they come with risk and discomfort. Many are deeply tied to the past and the old way of doing things along with old-fashioned sense of purpose. There is an inability or unwillingness to accept the potential of the modern. Without bold and willing endeavor, the new World passes organization by. This is where I feel the greatest pain, the passive manner in which the modern World passes my organization by. It is not unlike the broader social themes of those who accept the modern World, and the conservative resistance to everything. Organizations who fail to embrace the potential of the modern world imagesunwittingly enter into the opposition to change, and assist the conservative attempt to hold onto the past.

The question to ask is whether these organization whose history and greatness are grounded in a time gone by can evolve into something modern. Do these organizations even want to change? Can they make the change even if they want to while tethered to the past? For those of us who are part of publically focused organizations, we are caught in between the forces raging politically. The institutions of government will almost certainly resist and avoid change. The result will be a slow decline and almost certain death for these organizations as the World changes. The alternative is the World not changing and progress stopping, this outcome is certainly worse for humanity.

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?

― Dan Brown


That Brutal Problem Broke My Code, What do I do?

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.

― Anaïs Nin

Let’s say you’ve completely bought into my advice and decide to test the hell out of your giphycode. You found some really good problems that “go to eleven.” If you do things right, your code will eventually “break” in some way. The closer you look, the more likely it’ll be broken. Heck your code is probably already broken, and you just don’t know it! Once it’s broken, what should you do? How do you get the code back into working order? What can you do to figure out why it’s broken? How do you live with the knowledge of the limitations of the code? Those limitations are there, but usually you don’t know them very well. Essentially you’ve gone about the process of turning over rocks with your code until you find something awfully dirty-creepy crawly underneath. You then have mystery to solve, and/or ambiguity to live with from the results.

An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.

― Werner Heisenberg

I’ll deal with the last question first, how to live with the knowledge of limitations. This is a sort of advice to grow up, and be an adult about things. Any method or code is going to be limited in what it can do. Some of these limitations are imposed by theory, or by practicality, or expense, some of the limitations simply get at the limits of our knowledge and technology today. One of the keys to being an expert in a given field is a deep


“INSIDE OUT” (Pictured) ANGER. ©2014 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

understanding of what can and cannot be done, and why. What better way of becoming an expert than purposefully making “mistakes?” Do you understand what the state of the art is? Do you know what is challenging to the state of the art? What are the limits imposed by theory? What do other people do to solve problems and what are the pros and cons to their approach? Exploring these questions, and stepping well outside the confines of comfort provided by success drive a deep knowledge of all of these considerations. When properly applied the art of testing codes delves into a deep knowledge of failures as the fuel for learning and the acquisition of knowledge.

So how might you see your code break? In the worst case the problem might induce an outright instability and the code will blow up. Sometimes the blow up will happen through the production of wild solutions, or even violations of the floating number limits of the computer (NaN’s or not a number will appear in output). Other problems look like corrupted data where the solution doesn’t blow up, but the solution is clearly very wrong. Moving down the chain of bad things we might simply see solutions outside the bounds of what is reasonable or admissible for valid solutions. As we walk through this gallery of bad things each succeeding step is subtler than the last. In our approach to breakage, an analytical solution to a problem can prove invaluable because it provides an unambiguous standard for the solution that can be as accurate as you please.

Next, we simply see solutions that are oscillatory or wiggly. These wiggles can go all the way from dangerous to cosmetic in their character. Sometimes the wiggles might interact with genuinely physical features in a model, and the imperfection is a real modeling problem. Next, we get into the real weeds of solution problems, and start to see download-1failures that can go unnoticed without expert attention. One of the key things is the loss of accuracy in a solution. This could be the numerical level of error being wrong, or the rate of convergence of the solution being outside the theoretical guarantees for the method (convergence rates are a function of the method and the nature of the solution itself). Sometimes this character is associated with an overly dissipative solution where numerical dissipation is too large to be tolerated. At this subtle level we are judging failure by a high standard based on knowledge and expectations driven by deep theoretical understanding. These failings generally indicate you are at a good level of testing and quality.

Once the code is broken in some way, it is time to find out why. The obvious breakage where the solution simply falls apart is the best case to deal with because the failings are so obvious. The first thing you should always do is confirm that you’re solving the problem you think you are, and you’re solving it the way you think you are. This involves examining your input and control of the code to make certain that everything is what you expect it to be. Once you’re sure about this important detail, you can move to the sleuthing. For the obvious code breakdowns you might want to examine how the solution starts to fall apart as early in the process as you can. Is the problem localized near a boundary or a certain feature? Does it happen suddenly? Is there a slow, steady build up toward disaster? The answers all point at different sources for the problem. They tell how and where to look.

One of the key things to understand with any failure is the stability of the code and itsrk2 methods. You should be intimately familiar with the conditions for stability for the code’s methods. You should assure that the stability conditions are not being exceeded. If a stability condition is missed, or calculated incorrectly, the impact is usually immediate and catastrophic. One way to do this on the cheap is modify the code’s stability condition to a more conservative version usually with a smaller safety factor. If the catastrophic behavior goes away then it points a finger at the stability condition with some certainty. Either the method is wrong, or not coded correctly, or you don’t really understand the stability condition properly. It is important to figure out which of these possibilities you’re subject to. Sometimes this needs to be studied using analytical techniques to examine the stability theoretically.

One of the key things to understand extremely well is the state of the art in a given field. Are there codes and methods that can solve the problem well or without problems? Nothing can replace an excellent working knowledge of what experts in the field are doing. The fastest way to solve a problem is understand and potentially adopt what the best and brightest are already doing. You also have a leg up on understanding what the limits of knowledge and technology are today, and whether you’ve kept up to the boundary of what we know. Maybe it is research to make you code functional, and if you fix it, you might have something publishable! If so, what do they do differently than your code? Can you modify how your code runs to replicate their techniques? If you can do this and reproduce the results that other are getting then you have a blueprint on how to fix your code.

Peter_LaxAnother approach to take is systematically make the problem you’re solving easier until the results are “correct,” or the catastrophic behavior is replaced with something less odious. An important part of this process is more deeply understand how the problems are being triggered in the code. What sort of condition is being exceeded and how are the methods in the code going south? Is there something explicit that can be done to change the methodology so that this doesn’t happen? Ultimately, the issue is a systematic understanding of how the code and its method’s behave, their strengths and weaknesses. Once the weakness is exposed in the testing can you do something to get rid of it? Whether the weakness is a bug or feature of the code is another question to answer. Through the process of successively harder problems one can make the code better and better until you’re at the limits of knowledge.

The foundation of data gathering is built on asking questions. Never limit the number of hows, whats, wheres, whens, whys and whos, as you are conducting an investigation. A good researcher knows that there will always be more questions than answers.

― Karl Pippart III

images-2Whether you are at the limits of knowledge takes a good deal of experience and study. You need to know the field and your competition quite well. You need to be willing to borrow from others and consider their success carefully. There is little time for pride, if you want to get to the frontier of capability; you need to be brutal and focused along the path. You need to keep pushing your code with harder testing and not be satisfied with the quality. Eventually you will get to problems that cannot be overcome with what people know how to do. At that point your methodology probably needs to evolve a bit. This is really hard work, and prone to risk and failure. For this reason most codes never get to this level of endeavor, its simply too hard on the code developers, and worse on those managing them. Today’s management of science simply doesn’t enable the level of risk and failure necessary to get to the summit of our knowledge. Management wants sure results and cannot deal with ambiguity at all, and striving at the frontier of knowledge is full of it, and usually ends up failing.

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.

― Albert Einstein

At the point you meet the frontier, it is time to be willing to experiment with your code (experimentation is great to do even safely within the boundaries of know how). Often the only path forward is changing the way you solve problems. One key is to not undo all the good things you can already do in the process. Quite often one might actually solve the hard problem is some way (like a kludge), only to find out that things that used to be correct and routine for easier problems have been wrecked in the process. That is a back to the drawing board moment! For the very hard problem you may simply be seeking robustness and stability (running the problem to completion), and the measures taken to achieve this do real damage to your bread and butter. You need to be prepared to instrument and study your output in new ways. You are now an explorer, and innovator. Sometimes you need to tackle the problem from a different perspective, challenge your underlying beliefs and philosophies.

The true measure of success is how many times you can bounce back from failure.

― Stephen Richards

At this point its useful to point out that the literature is really bad at documenting what we don’t know. Quite often you are rediscovering something lots of experts already know, but can’t publish. This is one of the worst things about the publishing of research, we really only publish success, and not failure. As a result we have a very poor idea of what we can’t do. It’s only available through inference. Occasionally the state of what can’t be done is published, but usually not. What you may not realize that you are crafting a lens on the problem and a perspective that will shape how you try to solve it. This process is a wonderful learning opportunity and the essence of research. For all these reasons it is very hard and almost entirely unsupportable.

images-1Another big issue is finding general purpose fixes for hard problems. Often the fix to a really difficult problem wrecks your ability to solve lots of other problems. Tailoring the solution to treat the difficulty and not destroy the ability to solve other easier problems is an art and the core of the difficulty in advancing the state of the art. The skill to do this requires fairly deep theoretical knowledge of a field study, along with exquisite understanding of the root of difficulties. The difficulty people don’t talk about is the willingness to attack the edge of knowledge and explicitly admit the limitations of what is currently done. This is an admission of weakness that our system doesn’t support. When fixes aren’t general purpose, one clear sign is a narrow range of applicability. If its not general purpose and makes a mess of existing methodology, you probably don’t really understand what’s going on.

Let’s get to a general theme in fixing problems, add some dissipation to stabilize things and get rid of worrisome features. In the process you often end up destroying the very features of the solution you most want to produce. The key is to identify the bad stuff and keep the good stuff, and this comes from a deep understanding plus some vigorous testing. Dissipation almost always results in a more robust code, but the dissipation needs to be selective, or the solution is arrived at in a wasteful manner. As one goes even deeper into the use of dissipation, the adherence to the second law of thermodynamics rears its head, and defines a tool of immense power if wielded appropriately. A key is to use deep principles to achieve a balanced perspective on dissipation where it is used appropriately in clearly defensible, but limited ways. Even today applying dissipation is still an art, and we struggle to bring more science and principle to its application.

I’ve presented a personally biased view of how to engage in this sort of work. I’m sure other fields will have similar, but different rules for engaging in fixing codes. The important thing is putting simulation codes to the sternest tests they can take, exposing their weaknesses and repairing them. One wants to continually do this until you hit the proverbial wall of our knowledge and ability. Along the way you create a better code, learn the field of endeavor and grow the knowledge and capability of yourself. Eventually the endeavor leads to research and the ability to push the field ahead. This is also the way of creating experts, and masters of a given field. People move from simply being competent practitioners to masters and leaders. This is an unabashed good for everyone, and not nearly encouraged enough. It definitely paves the way forward and produces exceptional results.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

― Winston S. Churchill


Brutal Problems make for Swift Progress

or the alternative title “These Problems go to Eleven!

images-1Fortunate are those who take the first steps.

― Paulo Coelho

When thinking about problems to run with a computer code there is both a fun and a harsh way to think about them. I’ll start with the fun way, borrowing from the brilliant movie “This is Spinal Tap” and the hilarious interview with the lead guitarist from the band,

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

downloadMarty DiBergi: I don’t know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you make ten a little louder, make that the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel[pauses] These go to eleven.

To make the best progress we need to look for problems that “go to eleven.” Even if the difficulty is somewhat artificial, the best problems are willfully extreme, if not genuinely silly. They expose the mechanisms that break methods. Often these problems are download-2simplified versions of what we know brings the code to its knees, and serve as good blueprints for removing these issues from the code’s methods. Alternatively, they provide proof that certain pathological behaviors do or don’t exist in a code. Really brutal problems that “go to eleven” aid the development of methods by highlighting where improvement is needed clearly. Usually the simpler and cleaner problems are better because more codes and methods can run them, analysis is easier and we can successfully experiment with remedial measures. This allows more experimentation and attempts to solve it using diverse approaches. This can energize rapid progress and deeper understanding.

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.

― Molière

images-1I am a deep believer in the power of brutality at least when it comes to simulation codes. I am a deep believer that we are generally too easy on our computer codes; we should endeavor to break them early and often. A method or code is never “good enough”. The best way to break our codes is attempt to solve really hard problems that are beyond our ability to solve today. Once the solution of these brutal problems is well enough in hand, one should find a way of making the problem a little bit harder. The testing should actually be more extreme and difficult than anything we need to do with codes. One should always be working at, or beyond the edge of what can be done instead of safely staying within our capabilities. Today we are too prone to simply solving problems that are well in hand instead of pushing ourselves into the unknown. This tendency is harming progress.

Stark truth, is seldom met with open arms.

― Justin K. McFarlane Beau

Easy problems make codes look good because they don’t push the boundaries. Easy problems are important for checking the code’s ability to be correct and work when everything is going right. The codes need to continue working when everything is going wrong too. A robust code is functional under the worst of circumstances one might encounter. The brutal problems are good at exposing many of the conditions where things go wrong, and pushing the codes to be genuinely robust. These conditions almost invariably appear in real problems, and good codes can navigate the difficulties without falling apart. Over time good codes can go from falling apart to solving these brutal problems accurately. When this happens we need to come up with new problems to brutalize the codes. We should always be working on the edge or over the edge of what is possible; safe and sound is no way to make things better.

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them.

― Steve Maraboli

The use of brutal problems has helped drive codes forward for decades. A long time ago simple problems that we routinely solve today brought codes to their collective knees. Examples of such problems for shock physics codes are the Sedov-Taylor blast wave and Noh’s problem. Scientists came up with new ways to solve problems that brought these problems to heel. Rather than rest upon our laurels, we found new problems to bring the codes down. We still solve the older, now tamed brutal problems, but now they are easy. Once we slay one dragon, it is time to construct a bigger, more dangerous dragon to do battle with. We should always test our mettle against a worthy opponent rather than matching up with a patsy. Getting fabulous results on a super-easy problem looks great, but does little or nothing to improve us. Through this process we progress and our codes get better and better. This is how we challenge ourselves systematically always working with the premise that we can improve and get better. Brutal problems provide a concrete focus for improvement.

A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.

― Ray A. Davis

What does this process look like concretely? We have problems that used to push the boundaries of our ability such as the Sod shock tube. It used to be a problem we couldn’t solve well. Shock tube problems have the added benefit of having exact solutions (Noh and Sedov-Taylor do too), so agreement and error have little to no ambiguity. Solutions either had oscillations or they were inaccurate and very heavily diffused. Often important features in the solution were seriously corrupted. This problem appeared in the literature at a seminal time in the development of numerical methods for shock physics and offered a standard way of testing and presenting results.

img452By the time a decade had passed after the introduction of Sod’s problem almost all of the pathological solutions we used to see had disappeared and far better methods existed (not because of Sod’s problem per se, but something was “in the air” too). The existence of a common problem to test and present results was a vehicle for the community to use in this endeavor. Today, the Sod problem is simply a “hello World” for shock physics and offers no real challenge to a serious method or code. It is difficult to distinguish between very good and OK solutions with results. Being able to solve the Sod problem doesn’t really qualify you to attack really hard problems either. It is a fine opening ante, but never the final call. The only problem with using the Sod problem today is that too many methods and codes stop their testing there and never move to the problems that challenge our knowledge and capability today. A key to making progress is to find problems where things don’t work so well, focus attention on changing that.

Fig-11-Specific-internal-energy-for-the-LeBlanc-shock-tube-problem-at-t-60-N-xTherefore, if we want problems to spur progress and shed light on what works, we need harder problems. For example, we could systematically up the magnitude of the variation in initial conditions in shock tube problems until results start to show issues. This usefully produces harder problems, but really hasn’t been done (note to self this is a really good idea). One problem that produces this comes from the National Lab community in the form of LeBlanc’s shock tube, or its more colorful colloquial name, “the shock tube from Hell.” This is a much less forgiving problem than Sod’s shock tube, and that is an understatement. Rather than jumps in pressure and density of about one order of magnitude, the jump in density is 1000-to-1 and the jump in pressure is one billion-to-one. This stresses methods far more than Sod and many simple methods can completely fail. Most industrial or production quality methods can actually solve the problem albeit with much more resolution than Sod’s problem requires (I’ve gotten decent results on Sod’s problem on mesh sequences of 4-8-16 cells!). For the most part we can solve LeBlanc’s problem capably today, so its time to look for fresh challenges.

One such challenge is posed by problems with void in them, or those that dynamically produce vacuum conditions. We have found that this class of problems simply is not solved effectively with current methods. Every method I’ve looked at fails in some way shape or form. None of them converge to the correct solution once the problem gets close enough to vacuum or void conditions. The only methods that appear to work at all explicitly track the position of the vacuum, so my statement of dysfunction should be applied to shock capturing methods. It does not seem to be a well-appreciated or well-studied problem thus may be ripe for the picking. Running this problem and focusing on results would provide impetus for improving this clearly poor state of affairs.

1-s2.0-S1570865916300242-f02-09-9780444637895Other good problems are devised though knowing what goes wrong in practical calculation. Often those who know how to solve the problem create these problems. A good example is the issue of expansion shocks, which can be seen by taking Sod’s shock tube and introducing a velocity to the initial condition. This puts a sonic point (where the characteristic speed goes to zero) in the rarefaction. We know how to remove this problem by adding an “entropy” fix to the Riemann solver defining a class of methods that work. The test simply unveils whether the problem infests a code that may have ignored this issue. This detection is a very good side-effect of a well-designed test problem.

Another great example is the carbuncle instability where mesh aligned shock wave exhibit and symmetry breaking bounded instability. This problem was seen first in blunt body simulation of re-entry vehicles, but inhabits frightfully many simulations in a host of applications. The issue still remains inadequately solved although some remedies exist, none is fully satisfactory. The progress made to date has largely arisen through its more clear identification and the production of simplified test problems that exhibit its fundamental behavior. In my own experience if a code doesn’t explicitly stabilize the carbuncle instabilities, the problem will be present and manifest itself. These manifestations will often be subtle and difficult to detect often masquerading as valid physical effects. A good test problem will expose the difficulty and force the code to be robust to it.

One of the best carbuncle exposing problems simply propagates a strong shock wave in one dimension, hardly a challenge today. The wrinkle in the problem is to make the problem two or three dimensional even though the extra dimensions should be ignorable. It introduces a small perturbation to the problem and tests whether the shock wave induces an unphysical growth in the resulting solution. Codes that exhibit the carbuncle instability allow the perturbations to grow and ultimately corrupt the solution. The problem is simple and elegant, but brutally effective for the purpose it was designed. It was inspired by the path to successful analysis of the core issues leading to the carbuncle instability.

The key idea to the modeling and simulation enterprise is identifying problems that expose weaknesses in current methods and codes. Once these weaknesses are addressed they provide a codec of wisdom about problems that have solved, and whether such wisdom was accounted for in a new method or code. New problems working at the boundaries of our knowledge are needed to push the community and spur progress. Meaningful progress can be measured through the conversion of such challenging problems from those that break methods and codes, to reasonable solution by methods and codes, and finally to accurate solution. When a problem has moved from a threat to success, it is time to create a new harder problem to continue progress.

Ultimately the brutal problems are an admission of where the method or code is vulnerable. This reflects on the personal vulnerability of those who professionally associated themselves with the code. This makes testing the code rigorously and brutally impossibly hard especially in today’s “no failure allowed” accountability culture. Its much easier to simply stop where everything appears to work just fine. Brutal problems spur growth, but also challenge our belief of mastery and success. It takes strong people to continually confront the boundaries of their knowledge and capability push it back, and confront it anew over and over.

At a deeply personal level testing codes becomes an exercise in leaving one’s comfort zone. The comfort zone is where you know how to solve problems, and you feel like you have mastery of things. Breaking your code, fixing it and breaking it again is a process of stepping out of the comfort zone as a principle in energizing progress. In my experience we have a culture that increasingly cannot deal with failure successfully. We must always succeed and get punished mercilessly for failure. Risk must be identified and avoided at all costs. The comfort zone is success, and for codes this looks like successful operation, and bona fide healthy convergence all of which is provided by easy problems. Brutal problems expose not just code weaknesses, but personal weakness and intellectual failings or gaps. Rather than chase personal excellence we are driven to choose comfortable acquiescence to the status quo. Rather than be vulnerable and admit our limitations, we choose comfort and false confidence.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

― Brené Brown

Sod, Gary A. “A survey of several finite difference methods for systems of nonlinear hyperbolic conservation laws.” Journal of computational physics 27, no. 1 (1978): 1-31.

Pember, R. B., and R. W. Anderson. A Comparison of Staggered-Mesh Lagrange Plus Remap and Cell-Centered Direct Eulerian Godunov Schemes for Rulerian Shock Hydrodynamics. No. UCRL-JC-139820. Lawrence Livermore National Lab., CA (US), 2000.

Gottlieb, J. J., and C. P. T. Groth. “Assessment of Riemann solvers for unsteady one-dimensional inviscid flows of perfect gases.” Journal of Computational Physics 78, no. 2 (1988): 437-458.

Munz, C‐D. “A tracking method for gas flow into vacuum based on the vacuum Riemann problem.” Mathematical methods in the applied sciences 17, no. 8 (1994): 597-612.

Quirk, James J. “A contribution to the great Riemann solver debate.” In Upwind and High-Resolution Schemes, pp. 550-569. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 1997.


Am I Productive?

Simply, in a word, NO, I’m not productive.

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.

― Stephen R. Covey

A big part of productivity is doing something worthwhile and meaningful. It means ambitiondemotivatorattacking something important and creating innovative solutions. I do a lot of things every day, but very little of it is either worthwhile or meaningful. At the same time I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing! This means that my employer (or masters) are asking me to spend all of my valuable time doing meaningless, time wasting things as part of my conditions of employment. This includes trips to stupid, meaningless meetings with little or no content of value, compliance training, project planning, project reports, e-mails, jumping through hoops to get a technical paper, and a smorgasbord of other paperwork. Much of this is hoisted upon us by our governing agency, coupled with rampant institutional over-compliance, or managerially driven ass covering. All of this equals no time or focus on anything that actually matters squeezing out all the potential for innovation. Many of the direct actions result in creating an environment where risk and failure are not tolerated thus killing innovation before it can attempt to appear.

Worse yet, the environment designed to provide “accountability” is destroying the very conditions innovative research depends upon. Thus we are completely accountable for producing nothing of value.

Every single time I do what I supposed to do at work my productivity is reduced. The urlonly thing not required of me at work is actual productivity. All my training, compliance, and other work activities are focused on things that produce nothing of value. At some level we fail to respect our employees and end up wasting our lives by having us invest time in activities devoid of content and value. Basically the entire apparatus of my work is focused on forcing me to do things that produce nothing worthwhile other than providing a wage to support my family. Real productivity and innovation is all on me and increasingly a pro bono activity. The fact that actual productivity isn’t a concern for my employer is really fucked up. The bottom line is that we aren’t funded to do anything valuable, and the expectations on me are all bullshit and no substance. Its been getting steadily worse with each passing year too. When my employer talks about efficiency, it is all about saving money, not producing anything for the money we spend. Instead of focusing on producing more or better with the funding and unleashing the creative energy of people, we focus on penny pinching and making the workplace more unpleasant and genuinely terrible. None of the changes make for a better, more engaging workplace and simply continually reduce the empowerment of employees.

One of the big things to get to is what is productive in the first place?

There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.

― Peter F. Drucker

Productivity is creating ideas and things whether it is science or art. Done properly science is art. I need to be unleashed to provide value for my time. Creativity requires focus and inspiration making the best of opportunities provided by low hanging fruit. Science can be inspired by good mission focus producing clear and well-defined problems to solve. None of these wonderful things is the focus of efficiency or productivity initiatives today. Every single thing my employer does put a leash on me, and undermines productivity at every turn. This leash is put into a seemingly positive form of accountability, but never asks or even allows me to be productive in the slightest.

Poorly designed and motivated projects are not productive. Putting research projects into a project management straightjacket makes everything worse. We make everything myopic and narrow in focus. This kills one of the biggest sources of innovation. Most breakthroughs aren’t totally original, but rather the adaptation of a mature idea from one field into another. It is almost never a completely original thing. Our focused and myopic management destroys the possibility of these innovations. Increasingly our projects and proposals are all written to illicit funding, not produce the best results. We produce a system that focuses on doing things that are low risk and nearly guaranteed payoff, which results in terrible outcomes where progress is imagesincremental at best. The result is a system where I am almost definitively not productive if I do exactly what I’m supposed to do. The entire apparatus of accountability is absurd and an insult to productive work. It sounds good, but its completely destructive, and we keep adding more and more of it.

Why am I wasting my time, I could produce so much with a few hours of actual work. I read article after article that says I should be able to produce incredible results working only four hours a day. The truth is that we are creating systems at work that keep us from doing anything productive at all. The truth is that I have to go to incredible lengths to get anything close to four hours of actual scientific focus time. We are destroying the ability for us to work effectively all in the name of accountability. We destroy work in the process of assuring that work is getting done. Its ironic, its tragic, and its totally unnecessary.

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old

― Peter F. Drucker

The key is how do we get the point of not wasting my time with this shit? Accountability sounds good, but underneath its execution is a deep lack of trust. The key to allowivyxvbzwxng me to be productive is to trust me. We need to realize that our systems at work are structured to deal with a lack of trust. Implicit in all the systems is a feeling that people need to be constantly being checked up on. If people aren’t constantly being checked up on they are fucking off. The result is an almost complete lack of empowerment, and a labyrinth of micromanagement. To be productive we need to be trusted, and we need to be empowered. We need to be chasing big important goals that we are committed to achieving. Once we accept the goals, we need to be unleashed to accomplish them. In the process we need to solve all sorts of problems, and in the process we can provide innovative solutions that enrich the knowledge of humanity and enrich society at large. This is a tried and true formula for progress that we have lost faith in, and with this lack of faith we have lost trust in our fellow citizens.

The whole system needs to be oriented toward the positive and away from the underlying premise that people cannot be trusted. This goes hand in hand with the cult of the manager today. If one looks at the current organizational philosophy, the manager is king and apex of importance. Work is to be managed and controlled. The workers are just cogs in the machine, interchangeable and utterly replicable. To be productive, the work itself needs to be celebrated and enabled. The people doing this work need to be the focus of the organization and getting wonderful work done enabled by its actions. The organization needs to enable and support productive work, and create an environment that fosters the best in people. Today’s organizations are centered on expecting and controlling the worst in people with the assumption thaimagexst they can’t be trusted. If people are treated like they can’t be trusted, you can’t expect them to be productive. To be better and productive, we need to start with a different premise. To be productive we need to center and focus our work on the producers, not the managers. We need to trust and put faith in each other to solve problems, innovate and create a better future.

To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action;

― Mark Manson

Money is a terrible organizing principle


There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.

― Peter F. Drucker

In today’s world money is the prime mover in almost every decision made. Money is the raison d’etre in how we are managed, and what we perceive as correct. It has become a surrogate for what is morally correct, and technically proper. Fundamentally money is just a tool. Instead of balance and some sort of holistic attitude toward what we do, money ends up being the core of meaning. The signaling from society is clear and unambiguous; money is what matters. In the process of making this tool the center of focus, we lose the focus on reality. In terms of business and those who make downloaddecisions for business, money is all that matters. If it puts more money in the pockets of those in power (i.e., the stockholder), it is by current definition a good decision. The flow and availability of money is maximized by a short business cycle, and an utter lack of long-term perspective. In the work that I do, we define the correctness of our work by whether money is allocated for it. This attitude has led us toward some really disturbing outcomes.

What gets measured gets improved.

—Peter Drucker

Stepping away from the big picture of science for a moment is instructive in seeing how money distorts things. Medicine and medical care is a good example of the sort of abominable things that money does for decision making. The United States spends an immense amount of its aggregate wealth on health care, yet the outcomes for Americans are poor. For people with lots of resources (i.e., money) the health care is better than anywhere in the World. For the common person the health care approache2014-06-03-20140529doctortreatingmalepatientthumb.jpgs second World standards, and for the poor third World standards. The outcomes for our citizens follow these outcomes in terms of life expectancy. The reasons for our terrible health care system are clear, as the day is long, money. More specifically, the medical system is tied to profit motive rather than responsibility and ethics resulting in outcomes being directly linked to people’s ability to pay. The moral and ethical dimension of health care in the United States is indefensible and appalling. It is because money is the prime mover for decisions. Worse yet, the substandard medical care for most of our citizens is a drain on society, produces awful results, but provides a vast well of money for the rich and wealthy to leech off of.

friedman_postcardMoney is a tool. Period. Computers are tools too. When tools become reasons and central organizing principles we are bound to create problems. I’ve written volumes on the issues created by the lack of perspective on computers as tools as opposed to ends unto themselves. Money is similar in character. In my world these two issues are intimately linked, but the problems with money are broader. Money’s role as a tool is a surrogate for value and worth, and can be exchanged for other things of value. Money’s meaning is connected to the real world things it can be exchanged for. We have increasingly lost this sense and put ourselves in a position where value and money have become independent of each other. This independence is truly a crisis and leads to severe misallocation of resources. At work, the attitude is increasingly “do what you are paid to do” “the customer is always right” “we are doing what we get funded to do”. The law, training and all manner of organizational tools, enforces all of this. This shadowed by business where the ability to make money justifies anything. We trade, destroy and carve up businesses so that stockholders can make money. All sense of morality, justice, and long-term consequence is scarified if money can be extracted from the system. Today’s stock market is built to create wealth in this manner, and legally enforced. The true meaning of the stock market is a way of creating resources for businesses to invest and grow. This purpose has been completely lost today, and the entire apparatus is in place to generate wealth. This wealth generation is done without regard for the health of the business. Increasingly we have used business as the model for managing everything. To its disservice, science has followed suit and lost the sense of long-term investment by putting business practice into use to manage research. In many respects the core religion in the United States is money and profit with its unquestioned supremacy as an organizing and managing principle.

So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.

—Peter Drucker

For example I noted how horribly we are managing a certain program at work, how poorly the work is suited toward the espoused outcomes. The response to this is always, “this is the program we could get funded.” Instead of doing what has value or what is download-1needed, we construct programs to get money. Increasingly, the way we are managed pushes a deep level of accountability to the money instead of value and purpose. The workplace messaging is “only work on what you are paid to do.” Everything we do is based on the customer who is writing the checks. The vacuous and shallow end results of this management philosophy are clear. Instead of doing the best thing possible for real world outcomes, we propose what people want to hear and what is easily funded. Purpose, value and principles are all sacrificed for money. The biggest loss is the inability to deal with difficult issues or get to the heart of anything subtle. The money is increasingly uncoordinated and nothing is tied to large objectives. In the trenches people simply work on the thing they are being paid by and learn to not ask difficult questions or think in the long term. The customer cares nothing about the career development or expertise of those they fund. In the process of money first our career development and National scientific research is plummeting and in free fall whether we look at National Labs or Universities.

There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.

—Peter Drucker

At the heart of the matter is difficulty with long-term value. The impact of short-term thinking is clear in business. Short term drives are great for making money for stockholders, the more activity in the stock market, the better. The long term health of041917_RE_science-march_main business is always lost to the possibility of making more money in the now. By the same token, the short-term thinking is terrible for value to society and leads to many businesses simply being chewed up and spit out. Unfortunately our society has adopted the short term thinking for everything including science. All activities are measured quarterly (or even monthly) against the funded plans. Organizations are driving everyone to abide by this short-term thinking. No one can use their judgment or knowledge gained to change this for values that transcend money. The result is a complete loss of long-term perspective in decision-making. We have lost the ability to care for the health and growth of careers. The defined financial path has become the only arbiter of right and wrong. All of our judgment is based on money, if its funded, it is right, if it isn’t funded its wrong. More and more all the long-term interests aren’t funded, so our future whither right in front of us. The only ones benefiting from the short-term thinking are a small number of the wealthiest people in society. Most people and society itself are left behind, but forced to serve their own demise.

Long-range planning does not deal with the future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.

—Peter Drucker

Doing something better is relatively easy to devise, but seemingly impossible to implement in the near term. Large parts of the problem are laws that favor short-term interests and profit taking over long-term investment. These laws are entirely created to maximize the personal wealth creation. Instead laws are needed to maximize the societal creation of wealth, which is invariably long-term in perspective. We could bias the system in favor of long-term investment. Part of the answer is the tax system. Currently the system of taxation is completely oriented toward short-term and wealth creation for individuals. The attitude today is that if you can make lots of money; it is correct. This perspective needs to change to something more nuanced. We need to push a balance of this idea with value, impact and the long-term perspective. Ultimately this will require people in power to sacrifice wealth now, for more wealth in the future. People imagesneed to receive a significant benefit for putting off short-term profit to take the long-term perspective. We need to overhaul how science is done. The notably long-term investment is research must be recovered and freed from the business ideas that are destroying the ability of science to create value. The idea that business practices today are correct is utterly perverse and damaging.

Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.

― Peter F. Drucker

The problem with making these changes is primarily those who benefit from the current system. A small number of the most powerful and wealthy in society are significantly advantaged. They will work steadfastly to keep the current system in place because it benefits them. Everyone else can be damned and in many cases the powerful care little about society at large (some wealthy people seem to have adopted a more generous attitude, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet come to mind). Money having value over real world things is to their advantage. Creating a system that benefits all of society hurts them. This is true in the short term, but in the longer term it creates less overall wealthUnknown. We need a realization of the long-term effects of current attitudes and policies as a loss to everyone. A piece of this puzzle is a greater degree of responsibility for the future on the part of the rich and powerful. Our leaders need to work for the benefit of everyone, not for their accumulation of more wealth and power. Until this fact becomes more evident to the population as a whole we can expect the wealthy and powerful to continue to favor a system that benefits himself or herself to exclusion of everyone else.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right.

—Peter Drucker

Part of the overall puzzle is overcoming the infatuation with using business models to manage everything including science. It isn’t necessarily incompatible with the best interests of science, but today’s business practices are utterly orthogonal to good science.

Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.

—Peter Drucker