SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

NAME Computer Programs; Making Admiral Meyer Smile.

By Rik van Hemmen


In March of 2014, I posted a blog where I expressed my frustration at a lack of simple and affordable NAME programs. This led to a very lengthy SNAME Linkedin discussion, which now, sadly, seems to have evaporated in the mists of time. Regardless, the discussion was not in vain, because it connected a large number of enthusiasts and led to the start of a SNAME T&R effort which we have called Project 114.

The project lead is Steven Hollister, who is now developing a quite remarkable NAME computing backbone.

When we were discussing the NAME computer program problem, Steven explained that, from the developer’s point of view, the problem is related to the need to continually update Graphics User Interfaces (GUI’s) with newly emerging operating systems, which is extremely expensive for small program developers. This led to a discussion where we realized that the best way to get around that is to provide programs without GUI’s. This seemed pretty much impossible with NAME programs until we realized that today’s spreadsheet programs (Excel, but also public programs like Googlecalc) have pretty good graphics interfaces, if we are talking about graphing and displaying sections and flotation lines. This resulted in a Eureka moment where we started thinking in separating the deep calculations from the input/output activities.

In essence, we could develop (actually collect from donors) compiled calc engines on flotation, powering, structural rules, seakeeping, etc., that run on about any platform that simply take ASCII input and provide ASCII output and have associated spreadsheets that write ASCII input and accept ASCII output.

The spreadsheets then become the GUI’s and are much more immune to operating system changes.

Also, engineers know how to use spreadsheets, but are less skilled at writing fancy computer programs. These fancy computer programs will now simply be available as calculation engines that can be downloaded from a SNAME website and run within spreadsheets. SNAME liked this approach and has provided a little funding and the project is underway.

In theory everything is brilliant, but in practice everything is difficult and takes deep thinking and lots of testing to remove dead ends and blind alleys. Steve Hollister has taken the lead on this project and in true Admiral Meyer fashion (build a little, test a little, learn a lot) has started to build something that has the brilliance and ruggedness of AEGIS.

It takes a little time to understand the Project 114 approach (no more than 3 hours for a naval architect that knows spreadsheets, to be able to use the approach for a custom task), but once you get it, the sky is the limit (I particularly like Steve’s approach to spreadsheet looping). Most importantly, this approach will serve everybody in our industry, students, teachers, naval architects and software developers alike.

To get involved in this project sign up with the SNAME Project 114 community.

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