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

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  • Subject: [mg97201] Re: [mg97172] Re: [mg97135] Re: "Do What I Mean" - a suggestion for
  • From: peter <plindsay.0 at>
  • Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2009 05:49:25 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <goo7l7$shc$>

a bit of a ramble:

The purpose of language is communication [ I think ]. There are so many
modes of communication; music, mathematics, spoken/written word, etc. Within
those "modes" there are so many levels of sophistication; "Chopsticks" to
"Brandenburg Concerto", "Addition" to "Incompleteness Theory", "Where's my
coffee ?" to "Slouching towards Bethlehem".  Language has to accommodate
precision, otherwise you won't know what the other person means. Overly
precise rules of language stifle creativity. But too-slack rules generate
imprecision and communication breakdown.

I've never tried writing poetry, but I know if I did - fortran would not be
my language of choice. Similarly, if I was trying to write code for Fourier
transforms - Gaelic would not be at the top of my list. In any case, the
great thing about language is it can generate new ideas.

My first point: But you need to be fluent in the language before that can
happen. That fluency comes with practise and learning the precise rules of
the language so well that they are second nature. That's when the ideas
start coming.

My second point:  I think Mathematica is "great" language. I'm only an
engineer, but i'm told by experts that languages like Mathematica can be
used for theorum-proving as well as excelling at number-crunching.

The best languages [ in any "mode" ] can do both low and high levels of


2009/3/7 David Park <djmpark at>

> 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
> From: AES [mailto:siegman at]
> In article <goo7l7$shc$1 at>,
>  Bill Rowe <readnews at> 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):
> ============================================
> 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.

Peter Lindsay

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