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MathGroup Archive 2005

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Re: Mathematica Notebook Organiztion

  • To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net
  • Subject: [mg56859] Re: Mathematica Notebook Organiztion
  • From: AES <siegman at stanford.edu>
  • Date: Sat, 7 May 2005 15:35:22 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: Stanford University
  • References: <200505060701.DAA06272@smc.vnet.net> <d5htns$jsg$1@smc.vnet.net>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at wolfram.com

In article <d5htns$jsg$1 at smc.vnet.net>,
 Chris Chiasson <chris.chiasson at gmail.com> wrote:

> In addition, I hope that one day the internet will run on an
> _executable_ markup language. XHTML and CSS are great for specifying
> static documents, but they lack the power of executing code on the end
> user's machine. That is why, for instance, GMail is written (in part)
> in Java script.
> 
> Mathematica is most of the way there, because the same markup language
> that describes text layout and formatting is the language used to
> execute (inter)active content.

and in article <d5htv0$jt3$1 at smc.vnet.net>, DrBob <drbob at bigfoot.com> 
wrote:

> WRI, please take notice. David is truly a guru on visual presentation and 
> organization of information.
> 
> Bobby

I don't claim to be a "guru" on any of this, but I do claim to have a 
very large amount of ordinary user experience (multiple decades of 
experience) with (a) markup systems for presentation of technical 
material (books, reports, class notes, seminar slides), and (b) software 
for extensive numerical and symbolic computation and preparation of 
graphics.

Based on this long experience, when I read about

   ". . .the same markup language that describes text layout and
    formatting [being] the language [that is ] used to [do calculations,
    create graphics, and] execute (inter)active content . . "

count me as skeptical -- VERY skeptical.  This is a very BAD idea, that 
will inevitably cause much more damage than the dubious and limited 
benefits it may produce.

Basically, I'd argue that attempting to combine both of these quite 
different functions into a single language or package and a single user 
interface is an absolute guarantee that the language and the system and 
the interface will all become so complex, so convoluted, so hard to 
learn and use and remember between uses, that ordinary users (meaning, 
e.g., ordinary working engineering and science professionals) will 
abandon such a system for simpler individual tools with easily 
interchangable file formats which will enable them perform these two 
separate functions separately, much more easily, with much less of a 
learning curve, and with enormously less aggravation.

I think this concept of having such a single, universal language keeps 
emerging (mostly among "computer types"?) because it poses real and 
difficult and very interesting intellectual challenges to computer types 
just to accomplish this -- and that's fine; intellectual challenges are 
what creative people live for, and no one can blame or criticize 
computer types for being challenged by these goals.

The problem is, the *only* advantage of such a unified tool *for the 
user*, so far as I can see, is that you only have to double-click on one 
icon to start if up; and the difficulties it then produces for ordinary 
users are immense and unending.  I won't attempt to list at this point 
all the different ways these difficulties arise (inherently, and 
unavoidably) in such a system; but if this debate continues I may get 
motivated to respond with such a list.  

I love Mathematica, I love TeX, I'm very fond of Acrobat and Illustrator 
and BBEdit and . . . but the more people try to stuff the capabilities 
of all of these into Mathematica, the surer I am that this is a terrible 
idea.

   --Tony Siegman, Stanford University


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