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Re: More /.{I->-1} craziness. Schools are conservative. So are [people]

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  • Subject: [mg106683] Re: More /.{I->-1} craziness. Schools are conservative. So are [people]
  • From: Richard Fateman <fateman at>
  • Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 04:51:24 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <> <hhhmn8$o9t$> <hhpl28$9lf$> <hip8gf$t4d$> <8304354.1263643340634.JavaMail.root@n11> <hiuur1$919$> <hj12vo$bbu$> <2086370.1263898083144.JavaMail.root@n11> <hj6qel$8qg$>

David Park wrote:
> Again, I have to strongly disagree with AES and RJF. 
You are entitled to.  AES says he has 50 years of experience; I have 35+.

Active, dynamic
> textbooks and papers backed by a good CAS will displace static documents.
> They are better for learning, teaching and communication. I will repeat my
> arguments again, 

.. arguments snipped out...

> AES and RJF look for flaws in Mathematica (and certainly it's worthwhile to
> have skeptics and critics) but what about flaws in present practices?

The problems of adoption of software as you advocate are NOT especially 
dependent on the problems or flaws that we point out.  Indeed, most 
people who fail to adopt this software are not even aware of these 
flaws, but simply say the programs are too expensive and would require 
additional time to learn or teach, or  would take extra time in courses 
to teach, and would require extra people, and how about the cost of 
computer labs, and anyway I'm too old to learn a new program, etc.

> There
> are plenty of them and they are glaring. 

Which makes you wonder if anyone reads them, and furthermore why would 
anyone care if they had computer programs-- they might be buggy and no 
one would know either??

.. more snip...

of explanations of why David Park is advocating nice things.

> Now to your questions and objections.
> I readily admit that there are HUGE problems to solve to make these ideas
> work. (Universal ability to read notebooks, early training, preparation of
> adequate material.) That doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth it.

I think there are lots of possibilities for long-term improvement of 
education that will not happen because of short-term inhibition.  I 
think there are even more specifically for Mathematica.
> I don't know of any studies to test if this will work. I doubt if any such
> test has been done. I don't know how one could set up such a test without
> the preconditions above.

See Murray Eisenberg's note.
> I don't think that a professor should be told to teach Mathematica instead
> of quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, that is what happens now! My point is
> that students should know Mathematica BEFORE they take the quantum mechanics
> course.

There are lots of things that students SHOULD know that they don't 
(about alcohol, drugs, music, sex.) Mathematica per se is WAY down the list.

> An Extra course might help, in freshman year. But students with a potential
> for a technical career should be introduced to Mathematica in secondary
> school.

I cannot see this happening, even if you substitute "computer algebra 
system" for the word "Mathematica"

> I wouldn't attempt to convince printed journals to accept Mathematica
> notebooks.

If I encounter a reference to on-line Mathematica notebook that purports 
to be a technical contribution on a subject of interest to me, I will 
generally NOT read it via Mathematica. I will instead look for a PDF or 
other static presentation.  And I HAVE Mathematica at my disposal.

So far as I can recall, I've downloaded a .nb only ONCE, and I didn't 
run it to the end.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the problems.

1.  I want to read the deliberately extracted, summarized, and 
carefully- written exposition of the subject matter. I want to read it 
in a linear fashion, not with out-of-sequence links to references or 
footnotes or programs.  Good technical science writing is a skill, 
though now much in decline, and peppering a document with links is no 

2. Programs generally are hard to read. They are especially hard to read 
when they are poorly written, which is most of the time.  If I want to 
see them, I am willing to look for them.
If the point of the paper is "look at the programs" and the programs are 
polished, that is a different paper than one that says "look at the 
math." It is sort of like a fine dinner, where there are some delectable 
items on the plate. You don't ordinarily welcome (on the same plate) 
evidence that the animal you are eating was grass fed -- here is its 
stomach --.

3. I would be willing, as a teacher, to consider a textbook-like  online 
object with computer links,  but I would first seek some evidence that 
this was an excellently-composed object, by an authoritative and skilled 
expositor. (e.g. reviewed by a reputable person).  I would be eager, as 
a researcher, to find such an object which was a reference book and also 
was interactive.  There are probably some such worthy books 
(Zwillinger's Differential Equations comes to mind.)

  While it might help to have tools such as those promoted by David Park 
(or WRI), it is by no means an assurance of quality. The presence of a 
".nb" after a file name is no assurance that the contents of the file is 
worthwhile.  And if one returns to the notion that .nb implies 
Mathematica [some version or other] and its notable flaws at least to 
date, the .nb notation is almost a guarantee of some "gotchas" and hence 
I would especially avoid .nb objects, and most especially on topics of 
numerical analysis, where the design flaws are, in my opinion, so 
fundamental.  Example (mathematica 7.0):
{x >= 1, x > 1, x > 0, x}
     evaluates to
{True, False, False, 0.}

   can you construct x?


One possible answer, below....


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