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Re: Mathematica Notebook Organiztion

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg56936] Re: Mathematica Notebook Organiztion
  • From: AES <siegman at>
  • Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 03:42:53 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: Stanford University
  • References: <> <d5htns$jsg$> <> <d5muvu$duq$>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

In article <d5muvu$duq$1 at>,
 Chris Chiasson <chris.chiasson at> wrote:

> Are you saying that most ordinary users have abandoned Mathematica?

No, not at all.  Many, many working scientists and engineers -- along 
with students, professors, and many others in many other fields -- use 
Mathematica as our primary tool for calculations, analysis, and for 
graphing or animating the results of calculations and analysis; and I'd 
very much like to see that continue.

But I'm saying that Mathematica's syntax and user interface are already 
sufficiently complex (or, if you like, feature-rich) just for doing 
those tasks that learning and using it can already be intimidating:  The 
Mathematica Book is already 1462 pages; the abbreviated listing of major 
Built-In Objects is 266 pages (well over 1000 such "major" objects?).

And I'm arguing more seriously that the added complexity needed in 
trying to build world-class document preparation capabilities on top of 
these already world-class analysis, computation, and graphics 
capabilities is (a) unnecessary, (b) undesirable, and (c) may seriously 
compromise or even destroy the usability of Mathematica for its primary 
purpose by making it too complex, intimidating, and hard to learn for 
ordinary users -- in other words, a really BAD idea.

> Mathematica already describes notebooks in the same language that it
> takes commands. Take a look at the raw format of a Mathematica style
> sheet or a regular Mathematica notebook.
>   (much stuff snipped)
> It would be very attractive to me to eliminate the need for using many
> different languages to deliver rich web content. Mathematica can
> already do animations, scripting, and dynamic code generation
> (NotebookWrite). Given the above, why do you think it's such a bad
> idea to use Mathematica for the web?

Don't think I said that.  What I'd say is:

*  I'd be perfectly glad to have Mathematica contain some simple (repeat, 
simple) capabilities for posting its notebooks on the web, or printing 
them, or converting them to PDF files, or whatever.  

*  I do NOT, however, think Mathematica should also try to become a world-class 
tool for preparing AND delivering polished web content, or for preparing 
publication-quality (journal-quality) typeset printed output, or for 
polishing graphics output to publication quality, or any of those tasks.

Given the ease with which one can switch applications on modern 
computers, what's wrong with having multiple tools (or "many different 
languages") each optimized to best accomplish different aspects of these 

Answer:  Nothing is wrong with this, provided there's adequate agreement 
on some reasonable set of standard formats for the objects you're 
working on, and each app can import or export those formats as needed.  

Calculate plots or animations with Mathematica and export them to EPS, 
PDF or QuickTime; polish and annotate the graphics with Illustrator; 
edit the animations and add tracks with QuickTime Pro; embed all of 
these together with other material and present or publish them with 
PowerPoint or Acrobat; insert them in books or journal submissions 
prepared with TeX or LaTeX;  insert them in web pages prepared and 
edited with your favorite web preparation tool.

Trying to build all the capabilities of Illustrator, Acrobat, QuickTime, 
PowerPoint, DreamWeaver, LaTeX, and what else (sound and music apps?) 
into Mathematica doesn't produce efficiency; it just makes Mathematica's 
interface so complex as to become unusable (and if you'd propose to have 
modular sections within Mathematica for each task, well then the modules 
can just as well be separate apps).

It doesn't reduce the learning curve:  If you're going to do any one of 
those tasks, you have to understand the concepts and the sub-tasks and 
what's needed to implement them, whatever app you use to implement them. 
As just one example, if you're going to worry touching up the weights 
and colors and other properties of lines and curves and typefaces in a 
plot, you have to understand the concept of "strokes" and "fills" and 
how to edit them, whether you do this in Illustrator or Mathematica -- and 
Illustrator's WYSIWYG is so much easier to use that re-running a whole 
Mathematica graphic just to make some cosmetic changes.

It doesn't allow competition to optimize the tools for individual tasks.

And so on . . .

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