Re: Re: "Do What I Mean" - a suggestion for improving

*To*: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net*Subject*: [mg97172] Re: [mg97135] Re: "Do What I Mean" - a suggestion for improving*From*: "David Park" <djmpark at comcast.net>*Date*: Sat, 7 Mar 2009 02:38:14 -0500 (EST)*References*: <goo7l7$shc$1@smc.vnet.net> <6957611.1236334564077.JavaMail.root@m02>

Doing science, engineering or mathematics is not the same as 'making international phone calls' or 'driving a car' (say). There the task is fairly routine and almost everybody is expected to be able to do it. With engineering, every task is new. Mathematica is not like an HP or TI calculator, or an older slide rule. It is, by its very nature far more complex to learn because we are asking it to do far more. The model is more like learning to be good at expository writing, or good at mathematics itself, or learning to be a good poet. There is no royal road. It is not just button-pushing. Mathematica is both very powerful and evolving. In my opinion we are still learning how to use it. I don't think anyone knows how to fully exploit it yet - not even the people at WRI. So it's an adventure, and a rather exciting one. Join in. David Park djmpark at comcast.net http://home.comcast.net/~djmpark/ From: AES [mailto:siegman at stanford.edu] In article <goo7l7$shc$1 at smc.vnet.net>, Bill Rowe <readnews at sbcglobal.net> wrote: > I do not think it is even a good > idea to attempt to make Mathematica accessible to users with > minimal computer/mathematics experience/knowledge assuming this > is even possible. I guess we'll just have to disagree -- vehemently! -- on this one (and also with great sadness on my part, if this should represent Wolfram's anything like Wolfram's actual views or objectives). By sheer coincidence, a few minutes after seeing the above post I read the following post in another newsgroup (it's a big long, but just skim down to the end): ============================================ POST FROM COMP.DCOM.TELECOM, FEB 2009: This thread reminded me of one of my favorite published papers (because of its sheer readability) and I could not resist bringing it to the attention of others, old and dated though it may be. Scrounge through the stacks of your local engineering library: Test yourself: how much do you know about international communications? [International numbering systems] Robrock, A. (Italtel, Milan) IEEE Communications Magazine, December 1989 Volume: 27, Issue: 12 Abstract We like to think of international telephone communications as `transparent', the successful outcome of 100 years of technical progress and standards setting, but the author shows us that it is not. The user still has to be something of an expert to understand how to make international calls, and there are chaotically differing numbering systems for telephony, telex, and electronic mail. We should be reminded that usability of services, not just their usefulness, is a critical component of communications. Simplicity, consistency, and rationality of service features and the `human interface' that allows users to invoke them should be a high priority for communications engineers as they work toward the integrated services networks of the future ============================================ Besides the "chaotically differing" phraseology, it's the final two sentences that catch my eye. Should Mathematica interface designers maybe be reminded that "it's the _usability_ of software, not just its _usefulness_, that's a critical component of software interface design" and even better "Simplicity, consistency, and rationality of software features ** and the `human interface' that allows users to invoke them ** should be a high priority for software designers as they work toward the integrated services networks -- sorry, integrated software packages -- of the future." Interesting -- "_integrated_ software packages?" -- don't I recall that that's one of the big selling points for Mathematica? (although one that I personally believe can really only be effectively achieved -- for software that is, not necessarily for networks -- using a much more modular approach. > There are a great many things in mathematics that work in > specialized cases. For example, a user with little experience in > mathematics likely would expect Sqrt[x^2] to simplify to x. But > that transformation is only valid when x is real and positive. > If Mathematica were to automatically do this simplification (or > many others of a similar nature) it would not be an adequate > tool for me or many other users since it would be creating > erroneous output. Worse, even for those users where this > happened to be the correct output, the issue gets hidden and > they would learn to trust Mathematica only to lose trust when > things were more complex. > > The point is mathematics is complex. A tool designed to > implement mathematics can hardly be less complex. Attempts to > reduce the complexity invariably mean some aspects (typically > special cases) of the mathematics are being ignored or hidden. > Ignoring or hiding such special cases limits the usefulness of Mathematica. Don't really disagree on the facts here -- just the operational conclusions: 1) Are you really saying that the whole series of superb hp calculators out of which I got so many useful scientific and engineering results in earlier years -- and which, incidentally and painlessly, also gave me at least an introduction to the concepts of Reverse Polish notation and stacks as an aside -- should not have had a "Sqrt[x]" key? [And incidentally: Would you not like to see Mathematica be as widely used, and useful, as were those superb tools?] 2) I'm an engineer and physicist; other potential Mathematica users might be from innumerable other practical fields (econ, stat, business, etc etc). We know some math; varying amounts for different fields and levels within fields. We know there are complexities in math that we may not understand. But we also have the protection that when we calculate results using some, we can (and do!) look at them and apply "physically reasonable" criteria (or "realistic results" in other fields) as part of our criteria. We don't denigrate rigor, or fail to take care about the possibility of unanticipated special cases. But we have _other_ tools that mathematicians don't have, to help us cope with the possibility of those.