I’m Jim Colby and This Is How I Mesh

Jim Colby, Senior Engineer on the Product Development Team.

Jim Colby, Senior Engineer on the Product Development Team.

While originally from Illinois (Waukegan for you Jack Benny fans), I grew in foggy Santa Maria, CA. So, I know BBQ – specifically Santa Maria Style BBQ and even helped my dad build a ‘spec’ Santa Maria BBQ pit. Even with that, I have come to appreciate Texas BBQ (see below).

My early career plans centered around becoming a naval officer on a fleet ballistic missile or fast attack nuclear submarine. So, at UCLA, I first majored in nuclear engineering. When I learned from my roommate that the Navy doesn’t like non-Naval Academy nuclear engineers, I switched to mechanical engineering. When I found out I didn’t like mechanical engineering and found electrical engineering much easier, I switched again.  When I finally realized my severe motion sickness would be a problem, it was time for a land-based career.

I did get to work as a nuclear survivability engineer on the Navy’s Trident II missile at Lockheed for a number of years. Running bomb codes, testing electronics, analyzing EMP coupling of missile exhaust plumes and participating in an underground nuclear test were some of the fun things I got to work on while I taught myself C and C++. Ah, programming – now that was and is fun. Instant feedback, creating new code, making machines do my bidding – what’s not to like? I’ve worked on the system software for KLA-Tencor’s reticle inspection machines (front-end semiconductor manufacturing), Electroglas’ strip-test handler (back-end semiconductor manufacturing) and FEI’s focused ion beam microscopes (semiconductor failure analysis).

While at Lockheed, I completed a MS in Computational Physics, but didn’t use it much in the ensuing years. So, when a position opened up at Pointwise in 2010 (Carolyn Woeber, the Customer Support Manager here at Pointwise, is married to my wife’s brother), I jumped at the chance to work on a great scientific software package with great people.

  • Location: Fort Worth, TX
  • Current position: Senior Engineer, Product Development
  • Current computer: Windows 8.1 workstation (Intel i7-860 2.80 GHz x 4, 16 GB, Dual Monitors, Nvidia GeForce GT 220), Filco mechanical keyboard (Cherry brown switches)
  • Current headphones/amp: Oppo PM-3 w/FiiO X3ii
  • One word that best describes how you work: Focused

What software or tools do you use every day?

While others might use imitators or pretenders, I use the one and only Emacs, the god of editors. As a colleague of mine once said, “Once you’re in Emacs, there’s no need to leave”. However, I do make concessions (I was an engineer first, then a physicist) so I also use Microsoft’s Visual Studio (with Emacs key bindings, of course). I can easily switch between Emacs for editing and Visual Studio for compiling, debugging and a bit o’ editing. The remapping of the keyboard I’ve done to make Windows more like a Sun workstation is handy as well and it confuses the heck out of people using my machine. We use Perforce for version control here at Pointwise, which is quite refreshing from my years under ClearCase’s somewhat heavy-handed version of version control. For issue tracking YouTrack is fantastic, and TeamCity manages our build system (18 build/test agents, each on a different OS platform). Cygwin works great for the command-line and for interfacing with our Linux- and Mac OS X-based machines. Outlook and Firefox/Chrome pretty much complete the list.

What does your workspace look like?

Jim's current workspace.

Jim’s current workspace.

Jim's bookshelf.

Jim’s bookshelf.

My workspace is a bit, shall we say, crowded. Two monitors, phone, coffee mugs, planner, keyboard, assorted cables, phone/tablet/headphones, you get the picture, like the one above. On the wall is a nicely framed map of London, circa 1920. I also have a table behind me that takes up any overflow – more coffee mugs, books, magazines, water bottle, lunch bag – sorry, no picture.

What are you currently working on?

I was originally hired on to help with an Air Force contract integrating overset meshing capabilities into Pointwise. Nowadays it’s primarily getting V18 ready for production: addressing bugs, adding new features, expanding some existing features and testing.

What would you say is your meshing specialty?

That’s a great question. One for which I have an answer. None. I do build meshes while testing Pointwise in order to pin-point code defects, and if it’s not in the meshing algorithms, I’m all over it. Fortunately for me, there’s more to this world-class meshing tool than algorithms, and I get to help make those algorithms as useful as possible.

Any tips for our users?

You’ve made the best choice in CFD meshing software – unless you aren’t using Pointwise. Use it. Learn Glpyh. Make use of our awesome customer support – only the biggest customers received support directly from the developers at my previous employers – here at Pointwise, not only are our customer support engineers meshing experts, they are mere feet away from us developers and aren’t afraid to involve us should the need arise for any customer.

What project are you most proud of and why?

The overset meshing project I was originally hired for is certainly up there. I developed a nifty XML parsing engine that created user input dialogs at runtime so that future changes to the overset meshing codes we support would be nearly seamless. Some others would be the UV highlighter Examine function and Rules extensions (entity associations).

What CFD solver and postprocessor do you use most often?

Well, as for CFD solvers, that would be the one I wrote. A fabulous 2D shock wave solver I wrote for a grad school homework assignment that only had one tiny error. Still got an A, though. Since then, I haven’t used any and don’t really need to with my current work.

Are you reading any interesting technical papers we should know about?

Well, that’s classified. If I told you, I have to… you know. All kidding aside, I’m reading Geometry Modeling, by Michael Mortenson to get up to speed on, uh, geometry modeling.

Do you plan on attending any conferences or workshops next year?

I attended the C++Now conference last year and I’ll try to attend another C++ related conference this next year, and possibly another International Meshing Roundtable conference.

What do you do when you’re not generating meshes?

Time with my family is important since my kids are almost out of the house – we all climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park this past summer – I like to do it every 10 years. Cooking with my wife is always fun as we rarely eat out and rarely have the same meal twice – I’m the sous while she makes the meal magic. I also apparently enjoy keeping old laptop computers alive and living on Windows 10. I used to be addicted to pushups – my goal was to do 1,000 a day. But, I got stuck at 375 and gave up. These days, I run a few miles 2-3 days a week, and do a more modest 180 pushups and 36 pullups every other day to stay in shape for my real passion – coding for Pointwise.

What is some of the best CFD advice you’ve ever received?

Mesh early and often – wait – I get that confused with the ‘vote early and vote often’ quote… Since my career has only lately been CFD-related, I haven’t received any advice I’d call ‘best’. However, CFD analysis is probably like anything else – spend quality time up front on your project (i.e., build a great mesh with Pointwise) and the rest should just fall into place.

If you had to pick a place to have dinner, where would you go?

Café Pasqual’s in Santa Fe, NM. For BBQ, Franklin’s in Austin, TX is tough to beat, but be prepared to wait in line. For 3 hours. And do not fill up on their ‘samples’. In San Jose, CA, the Falafel Drive In is excellent – large falafel with their hot sauce and a banana shake. For steak, I still prefer Jocko’s in Nipomo, CA, just north of my home town – nothing fancy, just great steaks, beans and garlic bread.

About Travis Carrigan

A Pointwise engineer helping other engineers solve their meshing problems.
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1 Response to I’m Jim Colby and This Is How I Mesh

  1. jdrch says:

    Nice! I run Windows 10 on all my (Windows) machines too.

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