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Re: How to write a "proper" math document

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  • Subject: [mg120044] Re: How to write a "proper" math document
  • From: Richard Fateman <fateman at>
  • Date: Thu, 7 Jul 2011 07:28:35 -0400 (EDT)
  • References: <> <iuukk8$epi$> <iv1aho$smk$>

On 7/6/2011 2:40 AM, AES wrote:
> In article<iuukk8$epi$1 at>,
>   "McHale, Paul"<Paul.McHale at>  wrote:
>> Interactive documents seem to be a limited by corporate security more than
>> technology.  I.e. If Mathematica were open source/free, this would be closer
>> to a non-issue.  This is not practical.
> This the second and equally difficult problem with Mathematica.  No
> question whatsoever: Mathematica is a marvelous intellectual
> development.
> But if Mathematica had emerged from,

Its predecessor, SMP, emerged from work done at Caltech by several 
people including SW, based in part on various prior technology.
For various reasons, which I suspect he may have indicated in print, SW 
decided quite the opposite from your assertion that software is best 
produced in an academic environment.

  and was continually further
> developed in, an open, academic, competitive environment, with
> publications, technical meetings, peer review, student involvement, and
> all the other advantages that this environment can provide, rather than
> a closed, quite secretive, and commercially driven enterprise, it would
> be even richer than it is today.

Past experience for the example of a computer algebra system, which is a 
rather more esoteric beast than (say) a text editor or formatter, or 
even an operating system, does not necessarily abide by your guidelines.

Support (e.g. in the US) by the National Science Foundation or perhaps 
some part of the defense establishment, has been key in academic 
research, but it tends to be inadequate in amount and/or duration for
the funding of an essentially interminable project.  Support by 
contributions of users is iffy, to say the least.  See how many moribund 
projects there are on sourceforge etc.
> Ask yourselves where many of the most important software tools of today
> emerged from?

Some of the most widely used pieces of software are, of course, 
commercially supported. Some are free but not open source. Think of 
Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, Google, Adobe, even (gack) Facebook.

Do you think those apps for your telephone would be written if the 
programmers thought they would not make any money (by sales, 
advertisements, whatever?)  Do you think that the 200 people (or however 
many WRI now claims) could be supported by an academic enterprise? 
(Actually, my guess is that 80% of them work in marketing, sales, 
packaging -- non-technical; so maybe we would need to support fewer 
people in a non-commercial setting. Unlikely unless computer algebra 
became as important as building fusion machines or nuclear weapons.. or 
Bill Gates decides to cure math in addition to polio.)

(and whether they are free and open tools, or closed and
> excessively expensive tools?)  Just to cite two of these:
> *  Unix:  The essentially open world of the original Bell Labs.

The original Bell Labs Unix was not free, but sold commercially.  It was 
available to educational institutions free. The distribution of Berkeley 
Unix for the DEC/VAX computer required a paid-up commercial license 
(paid to Bell Labs, not Berkeley) for non-academic installations.

This changed, eventually. Commercial support of free unix is plausible 
because of factors that are probably NOT in play for computer algebra 

But there are gobs of free and open operating system projects that just 
disappeared from the scene.  My guess is that a pretty good recipe for 
working hard for a few years and having no impact on the world is to 
write an open-source operating system.
> *  TeX and LaTeX:  Donald Knuth and his academic students and disciples.

I think that adoption by the AMS was a key.
> And then all the immense swarm of freeware, shareware, and low-cost
> software tools that we all enjoy today.

You have a somewhat romanticized view of this swarm. 300,000 iphone 
apps?  How many free computer algebra systems that (apparently) you 
don't use?  Free and low-cost malware?
While I agree that Mathematica could be improved, I think it is pretty 
speculative to say that it would be better if  Mathematica were free and 
open source. I'm in favor of paying programmers and mathematicians.  I 
doubt that you get the best results from students who have to deliver 
pizzas in the evenings to pay their rent.


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