Day: March 3, 2010

Optimization And Playing With The Numbers

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Do you remember the CHE 430 course? The one with the long title that sounded like; Process Modeling, Simulation and Optimization. The one where you had to do either one of the following;

a) Put as many library books in a wheelbarrow and roll it into the exam room with you- and still expect to fail

b) Pray qiyam ul- leil and make du’aa that the class average will be too low so you can come out with a passing grade.

Okay, I needed to bring back memories for the following reason…during one of those now-I-deem-as-extremely-entertaining classes, the professor said that when we get our first jobs, one of our first assignments as engineers would be optimizing systems.

Since mostly engineers follow this blog, you probably know that by definition, optimization means solving problems in which one seeks to minimize or maximize a real function by systematically choosing (not playing around with) the values of real or integer variables from within an allowed set.

In English, you have an input, a model, and an output. You keep on changing the input until the output is optimized. If you know the logical sequence of equations that constitute the model, you begin to know exactly what inputs must be changed and how the change in input will affect the output.

Let me now tell you what happens at work if you DON’T know the model because you’re using a program; (again, organized in imaginary dialogue form for entertainment purposes);

EE: Use <Program name here> to optimize the system.

IEE: How do you do that?

EE: Copy-paste the input from somewhere else, and play with x and y (variables) until you have uniform z (output = series of numbers).

IEE: What do you mean by uniform z (as in plus or minus what values)?

EE: Where the values are nearly the same.

*3an jad fassara al ma2 bil ma2*

IEE stupidly playing with x and y in hopes that the output will be uniform, but there’s something wrong with the output. Half the numbers are positive, and there’s some negative number. No matter what changes are made to x and y…the negative number is still there.

After a long – frustrating – time on this assignment, EE suddenly remembers that the input (copy-pasted as per his instructions ) needs to be changed.

Don’t you feel it’s one of those “Open-the-window-because-I-need-to-throw-myself-out” moments as described in Engineeringly Incorrect Statements?

Take another optimizing problem;

b) Copy-paste Mathcad sheet, and keep on playing with the numbers until the system is optimized.

So basically, after some engineering experience, the conclusion is this;

-To optimize any system, forget everything you learnt at uni, just copy-paste, use a program and keep on playing with the numbers until the system is optimized.

Finally, with all our engineering experience, I think our CV’s need to be updated. Here’s a template of how mine has changed;

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