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MathGroup Archive 1999

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

  • To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net
  • Subject: [mg18298] Re: "At long last, Sir, have you no shame?"
  • From: sidles at u.washington.edu (John A. Sidles)
  • Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1999 22:24:09 -0400
  • Organization: University of Washington, Seattle
  • References: <199906150543.BAA13337@smc.vnet.net.> <7ku02a$996@smc.vnet.net>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at wolfram.com

Andrew Watson  <abwatson at mail.arc.nasa.gov> wrote:
> Saying first that I am a fanatical Mathematica user, in awe of 
> the product and its developers, I nonetheless feel compelled to 
> say that...

Thanks Andrew!  Your problems are so common to Mathematica users 
that I have converted it to a standard form ...
> 
> I am absolutely astonished that Mathematica [__insert
> version___] has *still* not fixed the [___insert bug___],
> which prevents [___essential work from getting done___]/[__on
> time__]/[___correctly___]/[___printed out___]/[___without crashing___].  
> This bug causes endless troubles for those of us who [___use
> Mathematica professionally__] This bug has been present since
> time immemorial, but elicits only sheepish chuckles from
> Wolfram developers when mentioned.

Well, this last remark is the nub!  If you want to elicit sheepish
chuckles from Mathematica support, just ask them these three
management-related questions:

(1) How is it decided which bugs are documented?
(2) How is it decided which bugs are patched?
(3) How is it decided which bugs are fixed in succeeding releases?

My experience is, the technical suport people at Wolfram
Research are *great* individuals, but they are seemingly
hamstrung by PHB corporate policies regarding bugs and
documentation. 

Wofram Research could learn a lot from National Instruments
---  great web site, full bug documentation, timely patches,
stable releases.  The NatInst web-based KnowledgeBase is a 
model of top-quality customer support:

    http://www.natinst.com/support/resource.htm
    
   "The KnowledgeBase is our most comprehensive
    support service. This searchable database
    containing thousands of known problems and their
    resolutions is available to you at all times to
    help you get up and running immediately."

When users like me send NatInst a crisply documented bug
report, we can count on a crisp & timely reply, on-line
documentation that helps other users with similar problems, 
and a fix in the next release.

Andrew's last words articulate feelings that are pretty
common among Mathematica users ...

> What gives? Is this really something that has stumped the
> greatest computational minds of the end of the millenium? Is
> it really so low on the list of priorities that it has
> persisted for 10 years? Have you no shame?

Things are slowly getting better at Wolfram, but progress
is slow.  For example, did the Wolfram folks ever get
around to fixing/documenting in Version 4.0 another notorious
Mathematica behavior, that Eigensystem sporadically (about
1 time in 10^3) returns complex eigenvectors, given a real,
symmetric input matrix?  I received email from several
other physicists who had been bitten by this undocumented
behavior --- it afflicts several platforms.  But all we got
from tech support were the same "sheepish chuckles" that
Andrew experienced.  Net result, no documentation.  This of
course guarantees that future users will continue to use
Eigensystem[] in a manner which sporadically & silently
breaks.  This wasn't Tech Support's fault, the problem
originated in policies set higher-up at Wolfram Research.

Seriously, what's going on at Wolfram Research which blocks
better on-line documentation of this kind of stuff?


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