Tag Archives: structural integrity

A short scramble in the Hindu Kush

I have been resolving an extreme case of Tsundoku [see ‘Tsundoki‘ on May 24th, 2017] over the last few weeks by reading ‘A short walk in the Hindu Kush‘ by Eric Newby which I bought nearly forty years ago but never read, despite taking it on holiday a couple of years ago.  Although it was first published in 1958, it is still in print and on its 50th edition; so, it has become something of classic piece of travel writing.  It is funny, understated and very English, or least early to mid 20th century English.

It felt quite nostalgic for me because about thirty years ago I took a short walk in Gilgit Baltistan. Gilgit Baltistan is in northern Pakistan on the border with China and to the west of Nuristan in Afghanistan where Eric Newby and Hugh Carless took their not-so short walk.  I went for a scramble up a small peak to get a better view of the mountains in the Hindu Kush after a drive of several days up the Karakorum Highway.  We were driven from Islamabad to about a mile short of the border with China on the Khunjerab pass at 4730 m [compared to Mont Blanc at 4810 m].

I was there because the Pakistani Government supplied a small group of lecturers with a mini-bus and driver to take us up the Karakorum Highway [and back!] in exchange for a course of CPD [Continuing Professional Development] lectures on structural integrity.  This we delivered in Islamabad to an audience of academics and industrialists during the week before the trip up the Karakoram Highway.  So, Eric Newby’s description of whole villages turning out to greet them and of seeing apricots drying in the sun on the flat roofs of the houses brought back memories for me.

Did cubism inspire engineering analysis?

Bottle and Fishes c.1910-2 Georges Braque 1882-1963 Purchased 1961 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00445

Bottle and Fishes c.1910-2 Georges Braque 1882-1963 Purchased 1961 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00445

A few weeks ago we went to the Tate Liverpool with some friends who were visiting from out of town. It was my second visit to the gallery in as many months and I was reminded that on the previous visit I had thought about writing a post on a painting called ‘Bottle and Fishes’ by the French artist, Georges Braque.  It’s an early cubist painting – the style was developed by Picasso and Braque at the beginning of the last century.  The art critic, Louis Vauxcelles coined the term ‘cubism’ on seeing some of Braque’s paintings in 1908 and describing them as reducing everything to ‘geometric outlines, to cubes’.  It set me thinking about how long it took the engineering world to catch on to the idea of reducing objects, or components and structures, to geometric outlines and then into cubes.  This is the basis of finite element analysis, which was not invented until about fifty years after cubism, but is now ubiquitous in engineering design as the principal method of calculating deformation and stresses in components and structures.  An engineer can calculate the stresses in a simple cube with a pencil and paper, so dividing a structure into a myriad of cubes renders its analysis relatively straightforward but very tedious.  Of course, a computer removes the tedium and allows us to analyse complex structures relatively quickly and reliably.

So, why did it take engineers fifty years to apply cubism?  Well, we needed computers sufficiently powerful to make it worthwhile and they only became available after the Second War World due to the efforts of Turing and his peers.  At least, that’s our excuse!  Nowadays the application of finite element analysis extends beyond stress fields to many field variables, including heat, fluid flow and magnetic fields.