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Re: Mathematica and some General Comments

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  • Subject: [mg97206] Re: Mathematica and some General Comments
  • From: Helen Read <hpr at>
  • Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2009 05:50:24 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <goqphr$lt2$> <got8d9$gkh$>
  • Reply-to: HPR <read at>

AES wrote:
> On the other hand, I am also (equally sadly) not at all surprised by the 
> above observations.  The bizarre and idiosyncratic and dysfunctional way 
> that Mathematica has evolved, in its structure and syntax, in its user 
> interface, 

You keep saying things like this, and I can only continue to disagree. 
The structure and syntax of Mathematica is completely consistent, and is 
not difficult to learn for anyone who is willing to put in a little time 
and effort. The new Classroom Assistant and Basic Math Input palettes 
make learning the syntax even easier. When we switched over to 7.0 this 
semester, I had some experienced Mathematica users in my classes, and 
some newbies. The newbies relied heavily on the new palettes when they 
were getting started, and by doing so avoided most of the syntax errors 
that newbies usually made in past semesters. They quickly caught up with 
their classmates in using Mathematica effectively, and most of the 
students use the palettes lightly; they find it quicker and easier -- 
yes, *easier*, because they understand the syntax -- to type in most 
Mathematica commands themselves.

> in its pricing, and in its documentation, among other 
> factors, all contribute significantly to the dismal situation summarized 
> by David above.  I don't understand how things can have gone so wrong 
> for Mathematica -- but they have.
> Ten years ago I was writing enthusiastic memos to my Deans and Vice 
> Provosts for Research, and my university's IT people, urging them to 
> invest university funds in Mathematica licenses and bookstore discounts; 
> to sponsor (or pay for) free training courses for students, faculty and 
> staff through the university; to promote the use of Mathematica 
> throughout every even mildly technical area of the university; and to 
> make it a kind of semi-official university standard for all areas of 
> research and teaching (as they had, at that time, semi-officially done 
> for the Mac platform).
> To be blunt, if a proposal like that were actually to be taken under 
> consideration by my university today -- not that there's any chance that 
> this could actually happen at this point -- I would actively oppose it, 
> or at least recommend that a major effort be undertaken to explore every 
> other possible substitute (and there are some out there) to meet the 
> same needs.

We have a Mathematica site license at my institution that allows 
Mathematica to be installed on all university owned computers as well as 
computers personally owned by faculty, staff, and students. The students 
learn to use Mathematica as they go through the calculus sequence, and 
continue to use it as they go on in mathematics, physics, chemistry, 
etc. Yes, there is a learning curve, just as there is with mathematics 
itself, or with anything else that is worthwhile. It is 100% worth the 
effort. All of my students succeed in learning to use Mathematica 
effectively. All it takes is to provide them all with Mathematica, teach 
them the basics of using Mathematica at the beginning of the semester, 
use Mathematica routinely in class and require its use on assignments, 
and provide some support for the students (office hours, help sessions, 
e-mail, etc.)

Helen Read
University of Vermont

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