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Re: Mathematica Notebook Organization

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg56889] Re: Mathematica Notebook Organization
  • From: AES <siegman at>
  • Date: Mon, 9 May 2005 01:46:11 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: Stanford University
  • References: <d5kaiq$28d$>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

It occurred to me after posting a recent query that began

   > I have a module that makes a filled plot.  I use it to make a series
   > of displaced filled plots, then Show these in a single graphic.  
   > Everything works as expected, with two problems:
   > *  The Curves->Back option never works.
   > *  An additional line generated by an Epilog in the module only 
   >    appears in the final test plot of the group.
   >         (remainder snipped) 

that this is a minor but near perfect example of just one of the many 
kinds of hassles that arise if one attempts to program in or use 
Mathematica both as numerical evaluator and graphics generator on  the 
one hand, and as a primary document preparation tool on the other.

Sure, Mathematica is a great tool for generating initial versions of 
graphics, even (or especially) complex multi-element or multi-curve 
graphics; and with some skill and effort you can create results "good 
enough for government work", e.g. good enough for a report or a web page 
or class notes, or maybe a PhD dissertation -- though it often takes 
considerable skill and effort and multiple retries to get results that 
begin to look good.

Annotating, touching up, and polishing graphics to publication quality, 
on the other hand, is a task that is by far best done, and much more 
easily done even by unskilled hands, using a WYSIWYG, "click, edit, 
preview the results, and Undo if necessary" tool such as, for example, 
Illustrator.  I should learn that I'm always better off to do the main 
outlines of a graphic in Mathematica, then export the graphic as EPS, and do the 
final touch-up in Illustrator or some similar tool.  Mathematica is a lousy, 
frustrating tool for final graphics touch-up.

Of course I could then import the polished graphic back into the Mathematica 
document -- but that destroys the interactivity which is the primary 
reason for doing document preparation in the first place.  Once the 
graphic is out of Mathematica, it makes much more sense to keep it as an EPS or 
PDF file, which I can

*  Import into my graphics database (iView, in my case) so I can easily 
find it again any time I want it.

*  Import into Tex or LaTeX documents (these _are_ genuinely good 
document preparation tools).

*  Use in PowerPoint or Acrobat/PDF slides or QuickTime files.

and so on.

Bottom line:

*  Numerical and symbolic calculations and graphing of the associated 
results require one set of capabilities, which are best carried out 
using one kind of user interface, and which demand one quite large set 
of capabilities, tools and syntax in the application that does them.

*  Document preparation and presentation involves a whole different set 
of capabilities, which are best carried out using quite different kinds 
of user interfaces, and which demand a whole additional large set of 
capabilities, tools and syntax.

*  Trying to combine these quite different capabilities, tools, user 
interfaces, and syntax into one single giant application -- or one 
single giant "language" with one immense syntax -- does not really save 
or simplify anything, it only makes things worse. 

All the capabilities, tools, and syntax needed for all the different 
tasks must still be present in the unified system (and learned by the 
user).  But in a unified system, the user interface becomes so complex 
-- so many menus, so many commands in the one interface -- that it 
becomes unusable (and unlearnable).  Ditto the syntax.  

With a unified system -- even if it's to some extent "modular" -- 
competition can no longer upgrade individual components or modules of 
the system.  But if Mathematica and Illustrator can share the task of generating 
a graphic, communicating with each only through the graphic itself, in 
some widely used format like EPS, each tool can get better separately 
and without conflict.  

And for the user, learning what you need to know to do what you want to 
do, is no more difficult -- indeed, it's easier -- if you learn  and 
implement part of the necessary toolkit in Mathematica, part in Illustrator. The 
total of what you need to learn is the same; combining these into one 
massive language or system makes it harder, not easier.

There are other important aspects, quite outside of graphics, where 
attempts to combine content creation (analysis and calculation) and 
document preparation and presentation in one single language or syntax 
are equally damaging; but I've probably ranted more than enough in this 
message already.


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