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Re: Range of Use of Mathematica

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  • Subject: [mg88958] Re: Range of Use of Mathematica
  • From: David Bailey <dave at>
  • Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 02:37:18 -0400 (EDT)
  • References: <g0m8tt$14$> <g0rkfr$dtv$> <> <g11qvh$a6r$>

Andrzej Kozlowski wrote:
> On 20 May 2008, at 15:27, David Bailey wrote:
>> One sign of bloat, is that there are now two major interfaces -  
>> notebook
>> and Workbench (not to mention Math.exe) and such a profusion of  
>> commands
>> and options that even those of us that use the product regularly  
>> cannot
>> hope to be familiar with more than a smallish subset. There are also  
>> two
>> help systems! This has, unfortunately, impacted on the quality of
>> documentation. My advice to a beginner would be to read the V5.0 or  
>> even
>> V4.0 documentation (plus a few tips about the changes in Graphics) to
>> get some idea of the way the system works.
> I think one should not loose sight of in my opinion, a  very essential  
> fact, which is that the Mathematica Kernel, has remained largely  
> unchanged, except (of course) for continual enhancement by addition of  
> new functions, which only make it more efficient and powerful (and  
> make programing considerably easier). What this means is, that people  
> who see themselves essentially as Kernel users, are not in any  
> fundamental away affected by any of the changes you are mentioning  
> above. I know, because I consider myself one of them. I have never  
> tried using Workbench (even though I have downloaded it), and I have  
> not even made a serious effort to learn how MakeBoxes etc, works. I  
> still write all research in TeX. I know that it is possible to use  
> FrontEndToken etc, and if I even wanted to do so I know where to find  
> the documentation - but I have never found any incentive to do this.  
> However, I have become interested in the new Dynamic functionality,  
> partly because I think it is a great teaching tool and partly because  
> of the  Demonstrations project, but this is really the first new  
> addition to the Front End that has interested me. I am sure that I am  
> not alone. In fact, Wolfram has a different set of people working on  
> the Kernel and on the Front End, and I am sure that there are people  
> in the Kernel group whose knowledge of the workings of the Front End  
> isn't much greater than mine.
> I mention this because even though I have not, until recently, been  
> very interested in the Front End, I have never been in anyway  
> inconvenience by the developments that have taken place in that area.  
> True, Mathematica has grown larger, but not more than have my hard  
> disks or RAM. I therefore, see none of the problems you mention or  
> that seem to worry AES. I am a mathematician and intend to remain one.  
> I use Mathematica in the way that it was originally advertised, as a  
> "system for doing mathematics by computer". The most far reaching  
> change in the program that was ever made happened, in fact, in version  
> 2, when the Kernel was separated from the Front End. Sometime little  
> later WRI changed its advertising slogan to something like  "the  
> world's only fully integrated technical computing system". That, of  
> course, shows clearly the strategic direction that WRI chose and it  
> has consistently followed since. But for me it has always remained "a  
> system for doing mathematics by computer". In spite of that, I see no  
> reason to complain, because I have never found the slightest conflict  
> between these two "roles" of Mathematica. I have never found , for  
> example, that the development of Mathematica's typesetting  
> capabilities has in any way adversely affected any of Mathematica's  
> numerical or algebraic ones, which are the ones that really matter to  
> me.
> So I really still fail to see what this whole discussion is supposed  
> to be about. I particularly, I can't understand why someone who keeps  
> saying that Mathematica does not need publishing or presentation  
> capabilities etc. and should only be used for computations would at  
> the same time complain about the supposed lack of documentations of  
> functionality which, according to him,  should not be there in the  
> first place.
> Andrzej Kozlowski
Obviously, WRI are very reluctant to remove functionality, so our code 
goes on working from version to version. That is great, but we surely 
also want newcomers to find Mathematica easy to use.

Unless a new user decides to go on a course - with all the extra expense 
that involves - they have to try to get an overview of the system and 
decide which features are important to learn about. I suspect that this 
is not as easy as it may seem to those of us that have used Mathematica 
for years, and know how it all fits together.

The new documentation system encourages a browsing style of learning 
that may miss out vital ideas. For example, a user could be forgiven for 
deciding not to invest time learning about the relationship between the 
FE and the kernel. As a result he may fail to understand how code in 
different notebooks interoperates.

API's can get too big - try programming in the WIN32 API!

David Bailey

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