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Mathematica and some General Comments

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  • Subject: [mg97148] Mathematica and some General Comments
  • From: "David Park" <djmpark at>
  • Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2009 04:26:52 -0500 (EST)

I was mildly disappointed that some fixes did not appear in Mathematica  Some of these appear to be platform dependent but they were
verified on MathGroup by other users besides myself.


1) In Input cells the vertical bar or Mathematica Alternatives symbol does
not display properly. It only shows a short truncated stub. It does display
properly in Output cells and it does perform properly. This seems to occur
only with certain font sizes and magnifications.




2) There is still a problem with the various types of Density plots in that
part of the plot Frame is cut off. 


DensityPlot[Sin[x y], {x, 0, 3}, {y, 0, 3}]


3) In many situations Copy and Paste do not work properly from the context
menu. I consider this a major problem. I was warned that this fix would not
appear in, but I would  have preferred that the update be delayed
until it could be fixed. It is a bit more than a minor chore to do an update
of Mathematica.


4) The following may have nothing to do with WRI but may be a Windows Vista
feature. Since Version 6 (which was when I also started using Vista) the WRI
palettes would never remember their positions or states. The problem is that
the Security setting for the Wolfram program files FrontEnd/Palettes folder
is such that the user can't modify the contents. One can go to the folder,
right click, choose Properties and then change the Security settings so the
user has full control. Then the palettes will remember their positions and


It is now two months short of two years since Version 6 was released with
its new style of documentation. It is a bitter disappointment to me that
there is still no adequate support for documenting the kind of packages that
could be documented in the older Help Browser format. Specifically it is not
possible to document packages that have multiple sub-packages whose loading
is controlled by a stub package with DeclarePackage statements. A fully
functional and well documented Workbench would be a valuable tool for
producing fully active and integrated textbooks, university courses, or
major research projects. They could contain multiple packages with
documentation, separate chapters or courseware notebooks (with their own
style sheets) and all be linked together to form a unit. I wish that WRI
would give some serious attention to this.


The 2 January 2009 issue of Science was largely devoted to 'Education and
Technology'. There were many articles about the use of 'computer games',
'virtual reality', java applets and such but I could not find a single
mention of Mathematica or even CASs in general. To me, this is absolutely
incredible! I cannot see anything that can come even close to Mathematica
for students who actually want to DO some mathematics or learn some
technical subject matter. I'm thinking of actually organizing calculations,
derivations or proofs, trying examples and alternative methods, and
describing and explaining the methods. Isn't this what 'STEM' education
should be all about?


A year or so ago, on sci.math.symbolic a high school student stated that he
was interesting in studying pure mathematics and wanted to know what
computer language he should learn to further that goal. There were hundreds
of responses with some threads going to great depth. As far as I could find,
there was not a single mention of Mathematica and only one reference to
using a CAS. Everything else concerned the merits of C++, Perl, List,
Fortran etc. To  me, this again was incredible.


This all leads me to believe that Mathematica is poorly positioned in the
marketplace. At the present time, static printed documents are the dominant
method of publication and communication in the technical world.  Mathematica
is primarily an ancillary tool to produce calculated results and starting
graphics for these static documents. I believe that static documents are a
dying technology and they will sooner or later be replaced by active and
dynamic Mathematica notebooks - or their equivalent. Why? Because they are
orders of magnitude superior for presenting and explaining mathematical and
technical ideas. WRI seems to have this concept in mind but one feels that
they don't take it with full seriousness, or realize the impediments in the


I like to encourage people to think of Mathematica not so much as a super
calculator or programming language (although it is in part those things) but
as simply a piece of paper on which they are developing and expressing their
technical ideas. It would be very nice if by the time students got to
university they were proficient enough with Mathematica so they could spend
most of their time thinking about their subject matter and not about
Mathematica. That is a tall order! As Bill Rowe and others point out, there
is a lot of study and practice that goes into becoming proficient with
Mathematica. It means that students headed for technical careers must begin
their Mathematica learning while very young, and that Mathematica should be
dominant enough that many will want to do it and think it the natural thing.


Mathematica was probably conceived without consideration for the Internet
(however WRI has caught up with a vengeance). But it is a creature of the
Internet because it is so extended and complex that it is absolutely
necessary for users to help each other. MathGroup and the Internet in
general give Mathematica a life it could not have without it.


One other requirement to make a breakthrough is the necessity of anyone to
be able to freely read an active and dynamic Mathematica notebook. It should
be something like the model of the free Acrobat reader. PlayerPro would do
the job but it is too expensive. I know there are problems here. I wouldn't
care if the reader couldn't print or save the notebook. Perhaps dynamic
InputFields could be limited in the total number of typed characters for the
notebook. Anyway, if it is so easy to hack PlayerPro in a usable way, why
don't some people just pay the $200 and do it? A free general Mathematica
reader would do more to smash the old technology and advertise the power of
Mathematica notebooks than anything else I can think of.



David Park

djmpark at


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