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MathGroup Archive 1999

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Re: Re: "At long last, Sir, have you no shame?"

  • To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net
  • Subject: [mg18432] Re: [mg18385] Re: "At long last, Sir, have you no shame?"
  • From: David Withoff <withoff at wolfram.com>
  • Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 00:11:21 -0400
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at wolfram.com

> Hmmm, I guess we could quickly gather dozens of well known
> bugs in this thread. Before doing so: Is there anyone who
> would like to set up a database with online access for
> bugs (including workarounds) in Mathematica?
>
> Perhaps the existence of such a database would force WRI
> to include it into their support section in order to get it
> under their control. Not the best motivation for a better
> bug documentation by WRI but at least it might work.
>
> Martin Kraus

One response to your request for someone who would like to set up
such a database is that Wolfram Research is interested in this, and
is already doing it.  The "support section" of the Wolfram Research
web site is a "database with online access for bugs (including
workarounds) in Mathematica".

Another response is that a few individuals have volunteered
independently to make bug lists in the past; perhaps if you find
such a person you could ask them about their experiences.  Typically
the first problem encountered is the observation that independent
experts often disagree about what is or is not a bug.  To avoid
getting bogged down in irresolvable arguments, the scope of the task
is then expanded to include any behavior that anyone might conceivably
report as a bug, so the list includes things like why (-1)^(1/3)
isn't -1, various consequences of numerical error, expected limitations
of various algorithms, and so forth.  This greatly expands the task.

The next problem is how to organize this material so that people
can find things in the list.  It is useful if the list has some
sort of structure, with keyword searches so that, for example,
someone who reports the behavior of (-1)^(1/3) as a bug can find
the appropriate item, and so forth.  Then there is the problem of
dealing with the more common case where it is not the behavior of
(-1)^(1/3) that gets reported, but rather an example such as

In[1]:= Solve[x^(1/3) + 1 == 0, x]

Out[1]= {}

reported as a bug in Solve (because it doesn't report x -> -1 as a
solution), even though this is just an alternate manifestation of the
behavior of (-1)^(1/3), and neither behavior is actually a bug.

When faced with these and other problems I'm pretty sure that everyone
other than Wolfram Research who has tried to prepare a bug list has
essentially given up, leaving the technical support section of the
Wolfram Research web site as the best current bug list.  Yes, there
is always more work to be done, there are items that haven't yet been
written up, there are organizational improvements that haven't yet been
added, etc., but the technical support section of the Wolfram Research
web site is still a pretty good bug list.  Most of the bugs that get
reported to Wolfram Research Technical Support are described there, and
even a lot of things that aren't bugs are described there (there are
several notes about the behavior of (-1)^(1/3), for example).

Dave Withoff
Wolfram Research


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