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Re: Assertions in Mathematica?

  • To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net
  • Subject: [mg113506] Re: Assertions in Mathematica?
  • From: kj <no.email at please.post>
  • Date: Sun, 31 Oct 2010 02:10:07 -0500 (EST)

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions.  The Hold* setting
was indeed at the root of the problem.  Thanks also for the advice
to become familiar with Mathematica's evaluation sequence.

Regarding the docs, I still think it is Mathematica's worst feature,
by far.  Given Mathematica's general excellence otherwise, and the
fact that the main weaknesses of its documentation have not changed
one iota for the ~20 years that I've used Mathematica, I conclude
that these weaknesses are absolutely intentional.  In other words,
more than just objecting to Mathematica's documentation, I object
to its long-standing *philosophy* of documentation.

This philosophy centers on the imperative to avoid formal specification
as much as possible, and cover over this shocking omission with a
few laconic examples.

I don't know why the makers of Mathematica insist on this form of
documentation.  Maybe they perceive formal specification as a threat
to their intellectual property.  Or as a threat to the freedom of
their future software development (since documenting a feature
thoroughly may be interpreted by outside developers as a commitment
to those details in future releases).  Or maybe they believe that
users of Mathematica are too mentally feeble to read documentation
that goes beyond a few brief (and hopefully "*neat*") examples.
Or maybe all of the above.  Whatever the reason, the fact remains
that, when it comes to the *content* of its documentation (as
opposed to its presentation), Mathematica is third-rate at best,
which is scandalous for software as expensive as it is.  Even
open-source code like the standard Python or Perl libraries have
documentation that, even though it is largely produced by unpaid
volunteers, is vastly superior, content-wise, to Mathematica's.

Mathematica's documentation is the reason why I never recommend
Mathematica to anyone.  I just can't do it in good conscience, even
though, in many other areas I consider Mathematica the gold standard.
Yes, I use Mathematica myself, but that's because I've already
"paid the price" of countless frustrating hours of blind trial and
error to figure out what the documentation omits and thus reach a
minimal level of proficiency with it.  IOW for me the worst part
is in the past.  I'd gladly give up using Mathematica for good in
exchange for getting back all that misspent time.

~kj


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