I’m John Steinbrenner and This Is How I Mesh

Dr. John Steinbrenner, Executive Vice President, Research and Development.

Dr. John Steinbrenner, Executive Vice President, Research and Development.

I was born and raised in Parma, OH, a blue-collar suburb of Cleveland coincidentally less than 10 miles from John Chawner’s hometown of Rocky River.  I was the first in my family to attend college, but was followed by my younger sister who recently retired as a school counselor in Elyria, OH.  My older sister, probably the smartest of the 3 of us, still lives less than 20 minutes from our original home.

Starting in 4th grade I viewed working hard as an avenue to distinguish myself from other academically-oriented kids.  From 8th grade on I had an affinity for math, and to a lesser degree, science. My hard work broke down when it came to selecting a career, however – I chose engineering almost solely because someone told me that it required a lot of math.  I may as well have read about engineering on the side of a bus.  Fortunately, I chose the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering for better reasons.  It was a state school, which made it affordable; it was 250 miles from home, which seemed just about right, and it had a mandatory co-op program, which added a year but guaranteed a paying job and a more compelling resume.  I would recommend the co-op experience to anyone. During my freshman year I enrolled in the Aerospace Engineering department, because I had applied too late for my first choice of chemical engineering, probably because I didn’t see the deadline on that bus that drove by.

My first co-op job was in downtown Cincinnati working for less than minimum wage in a very small civil engineering firm.  At that job I learned how to draft (fun) and how to hold a surveying pole vertically for long periods at a time (not fun). My more substantial co-op position was working (a total of 15 months) at the U.S. Army Ballistic Research Lab (BRL, now ARL) at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.  This was my first exposure to CFD and rudimentary computer graphics.  Scientists in this group used axisymmetric structured grids to compute Navier-Stokes solutions on army ordnance, in hopes of computing things such as boat tail drag and magnus forces. Computations were performed on a CDC Cyber 7600 at a rate up to 100,000 times faster than the famous ENIAC machine housed at BRL 25 years earlier.

After graduation I attended the Iowa State University, a school recommended to me for its renowned CFD reputation and graduates, and which along with UC was designated one of 7 NASA Centers in CFD.  I studied under Professor Dale Anderson and completed a Master’s degree two years later in mesh adaption using equidistribution.  I had developed an interest in meshing (all meshes were structured then) when a colleague/friend asked me to mesh the face of an acoustic guitar.  I could not figure out how to do it until I was introduced to the transfinite interpolation method a few years later.

After my informal christening into the aerospace field by having 2 offers of employment rescinded only days before I was ready to accept, I accepted an offer in Fort Worth, Texas in 1984, a city and state that grew on me very quickly and which would now be very difficult to leave.  General Dynamics Fort Worth had started a CFD group the previous year, and for the handful of us in the group it was an exciting time.  While work was underway to develop Euler and N-S codes prior to my arrival, there was a dire need for mesh generation, which I saw as my opportunity.  I started working on Gridgen2D, an internal R&D project that was used to generate structured surface meshes, and which assisted Steve Karman in publishing the world’s first structured block Euler analysis of a complete aircraft (1986).  In 1987 we (Chawner, Fouts, Remotigue and I) bid on and were awarded a contract from the USAF to develop interactive grid generation codes.  One of these codes, Gridblock, has served as the GUI for all subsequent versions of Gridgen.  In 1989, during the contraction of GDFW’s workforce due to cancellation of the A-12 program, John Chawner and I went to work at MDA Engineering, Dale Anderson’s research company, to continue Gridgen development under funding by NASA Langley and NASA Ames.

The proverbial crossroads were reached in 1994 when future government grid generation funding had dried up.  Though Chawner had a young son (now 2 sons) and I had year-old twin sons, we both felt that trying to commercialize Gridgen was less risky than venturing into a new locale and job.  Pointwise was incorporated that same year, and Rick Matus came on as partner #3 a few months later.  I stayed at MDA for an additional year to complete an existing contract and also my PhD at UT-Arlington.  Unlike Chawner and Matus, who were working long hours bootstrapping Pointwise, my long hours at MDA came with a paycheck.  All told, it took us several more years before we were able to draw salaries that were on par with our pre-Pointwise positions.

Though Pointwise is now in its 22nd year, I often feel that I am working the same job that I had at GDFW and MDA thirty years ago.  I still get to work on exciting mesh methods and algorithms, I still interact with users (now mostly through our support team instead of direct customers) in order to arrive at complicated meshing solutions, and I still interact with many of the people I’ve known nearly my entire career.  On most days that last remark is a good thing.

  • Location: Fort Worth, TX
  • Current position: Executive Vice-President, Research and Development
  • Current computer: Dell Precision T3600, (Windows 7), and a Dell Precision T5400 (Linux)
  • One word that best describes how you work: Uneven

What software or tools do you use every day?

Gvim, PerForce, Outlook, Chrome, VisualStudio, and WinMerge (often).  In the early days when we supported Silicon Graphics Workstations, I also enjoyed using CaseVision, an IDE with a couple of excellent, easy to use profilers.

What does your workspace look like?

John's current workspace.

John’s current workspace.

My immediate workspace is comfortably bland.  The rest of my office looks like something designed by PeeWee Herman’s uptight accountant cousin.

What are you currently working on?

I have recently completed a refactoring of the T-Rex code in anticipation of some work we will be undertaking via an Air Force contract pertaining to overset grids.  Specifically, T-Rex was originally written in C in Gridgen, but has since been converted to C++ in our research branch of Pointwise.

What would you say is your meshing specialty?

Since I’ve doing this for so long, my meshing specialties have changed over the years.  I spent a number of years at GD-FW and MDA developing and tweaking Gridgen’s multi-block elliptic methods.   I still occasionally dive into Pointwise’s elliptic techniques, which are based on Gridgen’s.  I have also spent considerable time working on hyperbolic surface and volume meshing, fault tolerant meshing, and I was the custodian of our unstructured surface and volume meshing tools until fairly recently.   I have also incorporated 2 early incarnations of our native CAD readers, though I do not consider myself an expert.  Finally, I have been the developer of the T-Rex anisotropic extruder for the past several years.  A surprising (to me) portion of this time has been concentrated on cell combination into other canonical shapes (pyramids, prisms, hexes).  T-Rex has been the typical project that took a month to develop in prototype form, and then several more years to perfect (still in progress).

Any tips for our users?

This probably should go without saying, but attend a Pointwise training class!  The training will expose you to a number of features and methods that you may otherwise have no reason to run across.  If you can’t get to Fort Worth (and why not?), take advantage of the growing number of on-line tools that Pointwise offers, including documentation, webinars, and DIY training.

What project are you most proud of and why?

I am very proud of the stature in the CFD community that Pointwise has reached as a result of this 30+ year journey.   John Chawner and Rick Matus have done stellar jobs in building and maintaining our reputation, integrity and overall presence.  When we first got started Rick said that he hoped to grow to approximately our present size within 20 years.  Since I was focused on the technical side, that didn’t seem feasible at the time.   I am also thrilled that we have been able to hire and (largely) retain employees of such high caliber.  We have a cohesive group of folks with differing expertise that blend together to make Pointwise.   When you look at the 5 year anniversary photo in the Pointwise kitchen, you will recognize all 6 as current employees.  We haven’t aged a day in 16 years.

What CFD solver and postprocessor do you use most often?

I rarely need to run a CFD solver, though on occasion I will run Fluent or OpenFOAM to insure mesh suitability.  I previously used OpenFOAM’s checkMesh utility to validate face-to-face connections on combined meshes coming from T-Rex, and ParaView to inspect combined mesh quality.  Fortunately, very soon I will no longer need to use checkMesh or Paraview, since the specific tools I used are available in Pointwise v18.

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

There are several technical papers sitting on my desk that I have skimmed over several times that I plan to read in detail in the near future, all having to do with adjoint CFD methods.  Most of the time I set them down when my head starts to spin too fast.  Another technical book I am reading at home is Pinball Machine Maintenance, by Henk De Jager, which still spins my head, albeit at a lower rate and with bells and lights.

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

Nothing is planned yet, but I will probably attend the Overset Mesh Conference in Seattle in the fall.  We’ve got some cool stuff in work, and I would like to be there to gauge interest.

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

For years my hobbies have been coaching baseball, remodeling our houses, and playing softball.   I stopped coaching baseball 9 years ago when my sons turned 13 and outgrew my coaching skills. I’ve also slowed down on the home remodeling, mainly because the remaining things to do are either outside my comfort zone, or are high dollar items that will be reconsidered when both sons are done with college.  That leaves softball.  I’m the worst player (and 2nd oldest) on an average team that plays in one of the worst leagues in FW.  A true win for us means no injuries, though we tend to win slightly more often than we lose.

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

I was once told never to fall asleep on a competitor.   The comment was made referring to another mesh generation package, but it has equal applicability to any business.  If you’re working on something you deem important, how do you know that your competition isn’t investing twice the effort?

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

I realize I’m duplicating other Pointwise people’s choices, but (my wife) Kathy’s and my go-to weekend restaurant is Sushi Axiom.  For special occasions, Del Frisco’s in downtown Fort Worth is hard to beat. Finally, when I’m in Cincinnati, Cleveland or Indianapolis, Skyline Chili is the place.  Mr. Hero in NE Ohio is also good, though not quite as sublime as you may have been told (or will be soon).

About Travis Carrigan

A Pointwise engineer helping other engineers solve their meshing problems.
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3 Responses to I’m John Steinbrenner and This Is How I Mesh

  1. Pingback: I’m John Chawner and This Is How I Mesh | Another Fine Mesh

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