Helping others is the secret sauce to a happy life.

― Todd Stocker

mcdonalds-secret-sauce-revealed-heres-official-big-mac-recipe.w654I used to work at McDonalds a long time ago. Most people know that a Big Mac uses a secret sauce in dressing the sandwich. It looks like Thousand Island dressing, but rest assured, it is a secret sauce of some sort. Ideally, the secret sauce is the literal trademark of the sandwich, its identity and it’s a secret only known by a hallowed priesthood. Little did I know that in my chosen professional life I would be exposed to a completely different “secret sauce”.

BigMac-1A successful modeling and simulation code is very much the same thing; it has a trademark “secret sauce”. Usually this is the character for the code is determined by how it is made robust enough to run interesting applied problems. Someone special figured out how to take the combination of physical models, numerical methods, mesh, computer code, round-off error, input, output… and figured out how to make it all work. This isn’t usually documented well, if at all. Quite often it is more than a little embarrassing. The naïve implementation of the same method usually doesn’t quite work. This is a dark art, the work of wizards and the difference between success and failure.

6534-computer-wizardThe rub is that we are losing the recipes. In many places the people who developed the secret sauce are retiring and dying. They aren’t being replaced. We are losing the community knowledge of the practices that lead to success. We may be in for a rude awakening because these aspects of modeling and simulation are underappreciated, undocumented and generally ignored. Sometimes the secret to make the code work is sort-to-very embarrassing.latest

This is a very dirty little secret. Rebuilding this knowledge once lost is going to be very expensive. In most cases we don’t even recognize what we’re losing because the modern view of modeling and simulation doesn’t value it. It is essential and the sort of thing that isn’t being funded today.