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Re: Re: Re: v.7.0 issues

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  • Subject: [mg93972] Re: [mg93951] Re: [mg93910] Re: v.7.0 issues
  • From: George Woodrow III <georgevw3 at>
  • Date: Sun, 30 Nov 2008 06:59:16 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <gggqff$31i$> <>

I am in 100% agreement about the chasm. It took a while to get there,  
but I am, as much as possible, on the other side of the chasm.

It is a new frontier. Remember all the crud that was published in the  
infancy of desktop publishing. Eventually, good design won out, and I  
think that the same thing will happen with dynamic mathematical  
content. Right now, it is very easy to publish junk, and there is no  
tradition for new documents. I think that Mathematica is the best tool  
out there to do good work, but it will be a while before aesthetics  
has a chance to catch up with technical capability.

If one has a premier service contract, there are three free licenses  
for the Player Pro. I gave one to a colleague, and as soon as I could  
send him a notebook with interactive content, he finally understood  
what I have been talking about for years. (He is an MD but not  
mathematically sophisticated.) I plan to write and distribute programs  
and content that can be run with the Player pro.

I somewhat agree about the 'free' (or lower cost) Player Pro. The  
player is quite limited unless one is only reading static documents or  
running demonstrations, so the Player Pro is the only viable option,  
short of Mathematica itself. In the business world, $200 for the  
Player Pro is fairly close to 'free'. I don't see that lowering the  
cost to $100 would make much difference. We'll see what the costs of  
bundling the player Pro with an interactive electronic book is when  
the time comes. I think that this use is where the cost of the Pro  
Player will count.

I attended a couple of the Wolfram Publisher Days, and the take-away  
that I got was that electronic content is the future. Even books Like  
Theo Gray and Jerry Glynn's Beginner's guides -- from version 3 on --  
made it clear that there is so much more that can be done with  
interactive content. I would like to see some minimal improvements in  
typesetting, such as smart quotes and better use of Open Type fonts,  
and perhaps more choices in fonts distributed with Mathematica. I have  
been in touch with Wolfram about these matters, and there is a  
workaround for smart quotes, but it is to my eyes, inelegant.

It is doubtful that anyone could match the visual style of a good book  
-- Tufte's books come to mind -- but that elegance is not essential  
for electronic documentation. When OS X (and some future version of  
Windows) has resolution independent text and graphics, then type will  
have some new options. (Personally, I never liked Times, and I'm tired  
of seeing Helvetica everywhere.)

Workbench does need to be made better. The current version 1.2 beta  
provides the means to make documentation in the current style, but  
Workbench itself has a steep learning curve. I never used Eclipse  
before Workbench -- I wrote code for Macs using CodeWarrior or Xcode  
-- but compared to IDEs that I have used, it is primitive. My next  
task, after mastering the new stuff in Mathematica 6 and 7, is to tackle  
Workbench. It would be better to have the documentation functionality  
built-into Mathematica.

Cost is always a concern. Compared to competing products, Mathematica  
is certainly competitive. When increased productivity is concerned,  
the pay-back for a purchase of a new commercial license is trivial.  
Certainly, the cost of the service contract is 'reasonable'. It's  
about 2.5 times the upgrade cost for PhotoShop, and with the contract,  
one gets Workbench free, 3 player pro licenses, and a lot of other  

Having said that, if I had to purchase a new Mathematica license  
today, I would have a tough time at my company. I'd need a CapEx.  
(When I originally purchased Mathematica in 1989, it cost about $750,  
below the CapEx threshold.)

I have no solution for this. My view is that the commercial licensees  
are subsidizing the student and educational users, and this is fine  
with me.

It may make sense, though to adopt a tactic from our local  
neighborhood pusher: provide essentially a student version (even a 1  
year limited license) to anyone. This would eliminate the threshold  
for people who may be casual users or just want to test the waters.  
For the people who are hooked, then they can upgrade to a commercial  
license via the Premier service. There may need to be an additional  
upgrade fee; I am not a business type.

For anyone who is using even 10% of Mathematica's capabilities, the  
cost of the program is well worth it. The main problem, as I see it,  
is the high cost of entry.

just my 2 cents.


On Nov 29, 2008, at 4:32 AM, David Park wrote:

> Wow! This just illustrates some of the serious problems that  
> Mathematica
> faces.
> As many people who know my views are aware, I regard Mathematica as a
> revolutionary medium for learning, doing and communicating technical
> material with high mathematical content. But it is a revolution  
> still in the
> making (but far enough along to actually use) and it comes up  
> against larger
> difficult problems that must be solved.
> I view the revolution as a chasm that must somehow be leaped across.  
> On the
> near side is the static-documents medium of working and  
> communicating. Do
> your mathematics with pencil and paper. Use Mathematica as a  
> calculator or
> programming language to do calculations and produce initial plots.  
> Then copy
> these results to other media, add supporting writing and  
> embellishments and
> publish. It is unfortunately a hard fact that this is the ONLY way  
> right now
> to merge Mathematica into the publication process. Mathematica  
> notebooks are
> not today an acceptable publication medium.
> If you are on the near side of the chasm, and plan to stay there,  
> then most
> of the graphical and dynamic improvements of Mathematica 6 and 7 are
> useless. They are for private enjoyment but can't be included in
> professional output.
> On the far side of the chasm are literary, active and dynamical  
> Mathematica
> notebooks that can be exchanged with any other technical person.  
> These are
> so far superior to static mathematical documents that I believe they  
> will
> eventually totally eclipse them. It is like comparing the floor plan  
> of the
> Parthenon to the Parthenon itself.
> So the first larger problem that needs to be solved is the ability to
> 'exchange with any other technical person'. This really means a free
> Mathematica Player Pro. One that allows anyone to read, but not  
> necessarily
> save or print (reading online is enough), notebooks produced by  
> those who
> have Mathematica. I know there are difficulties and risks here for  
> WRI, but
> the risks have to be weighed against the gains. This is, after all,  
> a great
> advertising medium for Mathematica. It is a method of one-way  
> communication
> that may have a high conversion rate to two-way communication. (As an
> interim step WRI might consider letting Premier subscribers recommend
> recipients of free Player Pros. This would direct Player Pros to  
> likely
> purchasers and test the effectiveness of conversion to paid  
> subscribers.)
> AES wonders 'who [WRI] views as their customer base'. It ought to be  
> anyone
> who uses mathematics in their studies, work or communications. WRI  
> should
> aim for a much larger customer base and be dissatisfied with the  
> present
> situation. Mathematica should be dominant and widely used. I know  
> that then
> Wolfram will be accused of being a monopolist and things like that.  
> But the
> very nature of the product requires widespread use - to enable easy
> communication with others and to entice young people to make the  
> effort to
> learn it.
> It is not a trivial task to use Mathematica as something more than  
> just a
> calculator and programming language. It is not easy to write literate,
> active and dynamic notebooks that effectively communicate ideas to  
> others.
> It is difficult enough to write literate non-mathematical documents.  
> There
> are schools that teach it, and consultants that make a living at it.  
> It is
> MUCH more difficult to write mathematical documents that utilize the  
> active
> and dynamic features of Mathematica. There are many ways to misstep.  
> It is
> easy to fill a document with 'computer junk'. I can't, for the life  
> of me,
> see how a single Manipulate expression with a few sentences of  
> explanation
> could effectively communicate a mathematical idea. Mathematical ideas
> require development, exploration and explanation. It takes experience,
> practice, knowledge of the tools, and judgment to exploit the far  
> side of
> the chasm.
> Our educational systems spend years teaching students language  
> skills. It is
> just as important to teach students who may pursue technical careers  
> the use
> of Mathematica. They have to start learning it early. It is absolutely
> misguided to expect students to learn Mathematica at a university  
> when they
> are also expected to learn difficult technical material at the same  
> time.
> Mathematica, except as a calculator, is just too complex to learn  
> quickly.
> It is because early exposure is needed that it is necessary that  
> Mathematica
> have a wider reach. It will be difficult to implement early  
> instruction
> unless students and administrators know that Mathematica is a must- 
> have,
> must-know application.
> For students reaching college and for professional people, the goal  
> should
> be this: when using Mathematica they should be spending 90% of their  
> time
> thinking about their technical material and 10% of their time  
> thinking about
> Mathematica. This probably sounds utopian, but with early training  
> and with
> 'tuning up' and further development of Mathematica it is achievable.
> I agree that Mathematica is too expensive. (But those who are  
> regular users
> should seriously think of being a Premier subscriber and get the free
> updates. How important is Mathematica in your work or studies? How  
> does the
> cost of Premier service compare to your annual expense of car  
> maintenance,
> or various insurance costs, for example?) Mathematica should have, and
> deserves, a much larger base of subscribers. Economy of scale is the  
> main
> method of lowering the cost. (The idea of selling Mathematica with  
> built-in
> advertising somehow doesn't appeal to me. Especially in an educational
> setting.) The NSF should be strongly supporting Mathematica as an  
> important
> component of technological development in the United States. It  
> would be a
> much better investment than all the money they pour into education as
> entertainment and statistical studies of sociological factors in  
> technical
> education that I often see written up in Science magazine. A free
> Mathematica Player Pro would do a lot to expand the paying base. And  
> if that
> brings the cost down, hacking to some kind of inconvenient usage is  
> not
> terribly economical for the hacker. I do think new business models  
> need to
> be explored but it is terribly difficult to second guess people at  
> WRI who
> probably think about this all the time.
> Now for the documentation. Many users on the near side of the chasm,  
> with no
> desire to jump over, hate the documentation. That is because the
> documentation is on the far side of the chasm. Since all technical
> publication today is on the near side of the chasm it is a real  
> disconnect.
> But it is the way things are going to go. It is the future. All I  
> can say
> is: "Get used to it." It is no longer possible to provide static  
> printed
> comprehensive documentation for Mathematica. It would have to be a
> multi-volume set and would be totally useless for all the dynamic
> capabilities. By and large, I think the organization of the  
> documentation is
> fairly good, especially since WRI has provided multiple paths into it.
> WRI has done a lot to improve the documentation from the initial  
> Version 6
> release. Much of this was in response to suggestions and criticisms on
> MathGroup. For example, they added the Function Explorer and Virtual  
> Book as
> additional ways to access the documentation. In Version 7 they  
> redesigned
> the main Documentation Center to a more usable format. They added a  
> list of
> the Standard Extra Packages. A new feature in V7 is a list of 'How to'
> tutorials.
> My complaint about the documentation is mostly in the examples, and
> sometimes that it is incomplete. But there is a massive amount of
> documentation! I can just visualize the people at WRI 'grinding it  
> out, day
> after day'. Sometimes the inspiration is going to sag. I would like  
> to see
> more 'useful' examples as opposed to 'formalistic' examples.
> For example when looking at the Parallelize examples, the first ones  
> seemed
> too fast to notice any effect. Except that I did get a brief message  
> that
> did say something to the effect that two processes were established.  
> (I have
> a dual core processor.) Then further down I found an example that  
> looked
> promising. So this was the result, with timing added:
> Parallelize[Count[Range[10^6], _?PrimeQ]] // Timing
> {3.12, 78498}
> And then without Parallelize.
> Count[Range[10^6], _?PrimeQ] // Timing
> {0.78, 78498}
> Where's the advantage? Maybe there is some caveat? How about an  
> example that
> will actually show off an advantage to Parallelize. Maybe some simple
> obvious case that will work with two cores and maybe run in  
> something like 1
> minute instead of 2 minutes?
> My second complaint about the documentation is that WRI still has not
> produced a workable Workbench so that users can produce the new style
> documentation. The last version I saw still had many flaws and could  
> not
> produce documentation for types of packages and applications that  
> could be
> done in the old Help Browser.
> I know that many people have a love-hate relationship with  
> Mathematica. New
> versions always present many new things to learn. Version 6 was like
> learning Mathematica anew. (But if you are happy in staying on the  
> near side
> of the chasm you can ignore all the new dynamic features and some of  
> the new
> graphics. Just take advantage of the improved functions, programming  
> and
> classical CAS features.) Cost is still a major problem but the only  
> real
> solution is to broaden the customer base. (And a free Player Pro is  
> the key
> that will turn the lock.)
> Revolutions are messy, expensive and wasteful. They take unexpected  
> turns.
> They are difficult to keep up with. But they produce something new and
> exciting and better. This is the very beginning of a golden age of  
> technical
> communication. Take part in it. Help guide it. Don't get discouraged.
> Mathematica is not getting worse. It's getting better.
> David Park
> djmpark at
> From: AES [mailto:siegman at]
> On Nov 25, 7:18 am, " at" < at>
> wrote:
>> I thought it could be a good idea to start a thread where to detail
>> all the issues (both positive and negative!) discovered by early
>> adopters of ver.7.0:
>> detail your experience here!
>> Alessandro
> Alessandro:
> Are you limiting this to "early adopters" only -- or can "non- 
> adopters"
> chime in also?
> If the latter, then the overwhelmingly negative issues for me are not
> any of minor or routine (but still damaging) bugs and glitches that  
> will
> come along with any major new version of any major software package  
> (as
> people have already been reporting for M6 in this thread), but a set  
> of
> much more basic issues:
> 1)  M7 brings another massive set of changes in old routines or new  
> and
> increasingly complex capabilities that one presumably has to learn or
> adapt to, before the dust has even settled on the massive (and  
> massively
> disruptive) changes associated with M6.
> 2)  And yet, _still_ no adequate user documentation, at least for  
> new or
> occasional or "ordinary" users of these changes and new capabilities  
> --
> the same as was the case when M6 emerged.  (And, presumably, any
> third-party efforts that might have been under way to develop such
> documentation for M6 have now been thrown off track, or at least  
> further
> delayed, by the emergence of M7).
> 3)  Beyond this, as a working engineer, long-time university faculty
> member, and educator, I'm fully in accord with the response that says
>> Like all [recent] versions of Mathematica, version 7.0 is
>> ridiculously expensive for the average user...
> "Ridiculously and impossibly expensive" might be more like it.
> 4)   And so I expect I'll be going along with another recent response
> that says:
>> Probably, I am not upgrading anymore for this and the
>> reasons below, despite that I have been a loyal customer
>> since the earliest v2.1 and upgraded most of the
>> subsequent releeases.
> In my case, it's been "loyal customer __and active proponent__ of
> Mathematica since the earliest v1.0."  Just dug out of my files  
> acouple
> of memos dating back a decade or more ago, from me to deans of schools
> and to IT people in my university, urging major university support for
> widespread adoption of Mathematica across my university.  Where
> opportunity presents, I'm voicing exactly the opposite views today.
> 5)  I might be a bit more restrained in expressing these highly  
> negative
> views, here and elsewhere,  had I not had an accidental encounter a  
> few
> weeks ago with a senior colleague in my department whose multi-year
> academic involvement with Mathematica up through v5 has included doing
> very extensive analyses and numerical calculations of complex quantum
> phenomena; writing several memos and reports for his graduate students
> and colleagues on the techniques he's developed for this work; and  
> also
> developing, teaching and writing class materials for an undergraduate
> course titled "EE141M  Engineering Electromagnetics with Mathematica".
> (He also happens to be a member of both NAE and NAS.)
> I discovered that, totally without any contact with my own views and
> rants, he had purchased multiple copies of M6 when it came out, and
> installed them on his home and lab computers.  After wrestling with M6
> for some period of time, he then removed and trashed all his copies of
> M6; dug out his old installation CDs for M5 and reinstalled it on all
> his machines; and doesn't plan to worry further about MX where X>5.
> I've also had private email responses to some of my early posts on  
> this
> group following the emergence of M6 that have been supportive of of my
> criticisms of M6.
> Bottom lines:
> *  I absolutely don't pretend to understand Wolfram's product and
> marketing and branding strategy for Mathematica, and especially who  
> they
> view as their customer base.  But at this point, it doesn't include  
> me,
> or any groups I can think of; and I sure as hell wouldn't invest in
> Wolfram myself, or advise anyone I know to buy Mathematica.
> *  And as an entirely separate issue, I don't understand Wolfram's
> strategy or tactics so far as user documentation is concerned.  Their
> approach simply seems utterly crazy to me, and has since the arrival  
> of
> M6.
> *  But I also retain a great admiration for the technical capabilities
> and the immense knowledge base embedded in Mathematica -- post M5
> included -- which means the two preceding comments are sources of
> sadness, not gladness.  I'm just not going to ride the Wolfram train  
> any
> further myself.

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