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Plato's Academy of Mathematica: Soapbox warning!

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  • Subject: [mg22870] Plato's Academy of Mathematica: Soapbox warning!
  • From: "Steven T. Hatton" <hattons at>
  • Date: Sun, 2 Apr 2000 15:33:39 -0400 (EDT)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at


I have been playing with Mathematica for several years.  I have never had the
time to really learn it.  One of the reasons is that every time I sit
down to use it, I end up spending hours trying to figure out why I can't
get the pointer to stop being a hand in Linux (num-lock), or how to get
the delete button to "delete next."  And what the heck is Mod2?

I find the help often not very helpful.  It is difficult for me to
locate what I am looking for because I don't know the exact way to
formulate my search filter.  Additionally neither the help nor the
website supports a very good query engine.  The editor is rather
non-standard in how it interprets key strokes, e.g., "end" takes me to
the end of the notebook, where as, convention would take me to the end
of the current line.  The "undo" option doesn't keep a buffer of
previous changes.  And yap, gripe, sniffle, and so forth. . .

It is my understanding that Plato's Academy was the only place one could
learn geometry.  Over the door of the academy was the injunction "All
who enter here must know geometry."  The set of all sets which do not
contain themselves, as it were!  Mathematica seems a bit like this to me.  In
other words, in order to use Mathematica effectively, one  must be initiated.
In order be be initiated, one must be able to use Mathematica, at least
somewhat, effectively.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not condemning Mathematica.  I think it is the
Gutenberg printing press of mathematics.  On my job, I am faced with
exactly the same problem of mapping users' information paradigms to
obscure data representation.  It is not easy, and I don't expect it is
all that easy to get a bunch of propeller-heads who love to tinker with
group theory in algebraic geometry to spend much time trying to figure
out how to make an interface that is accessible to bone heads such as


NOTE: I have BCCed this to my coworkers because this issue hits home
with our current project.

Thank you for your indulgence,


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