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Re: How to write reports and books in Mathematica

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  • Subject: [mg109646] Re: How to write reports and books in Mathematica
  • From: Alexei Boulbitch <alexei.boulbitch at>
  • Date: Mon, 10 May 2010 06:37:50 -0400 (EDT)

Dear David,
I would like to comment on your following statement:

"At the present time, the single most serious problem with writing reports
and books in Mathematica is that people who do not have Mathematica can't
easily read them."

I believe that I faced a more serious problem that prevents a broad using of Mathematica for creation 
and keeping documentation. Namely, already several times (to be more precise, about 5 to 6) 
the notebooks I have created appeared corrupted and impossible to repair.

This year I prepared a course of uni lectures totally using Mathematica including notebooks 
with the lecture drafts and notebooks with demonstrations. It was fun and pleasure to use such a tool
for this purpose, the feeling that I believe I share with you. However, you can imagine my disappointment 
when I have found out that several months after their creation some of these files I cannot be open any more,
while some others I can open, but this only leads to a computer hang up. It happened with about 5 files 
out of several tens, but still each of them required a lot of my time. Especially strong is this disappointment,
since I am going to give this course several times in future. 

OK, I have several machines and keep these notebooks on every of them, so things are not that dramatic 
in my personal case. I have really completely lost only few of those files (though even this is no fun at all). 

However, I think that this lack of stability is the most serious problem of the program preventing its future 
propagation and should be seriously addressed.

Indeed, what will a person do, if he loses an important document due to such instability of Mathematica? 
Assume that this person is not a Mathematica fun (as both of us are), but only wants to use it as a comfortable
and powerful tool. And what, if it happens just an hour before he is going to present the document to his boss,
or to shareholders of the enterprise he works in, or to his bank?
What will I do, if the day of the lecture (that I believe is ready) I find that I cannot open the corresponding file? 
I think the answer is unique: such a person will never use Mathematica any more (at least for creation 
of documentation or of presentations).

There is a second problem about Mathematica, which I classify as less serious, but still very unpleasant. 
Rather often it informs that the system made a heavy error and will close without saving. We know that other 
programs like for instance, Word also exhibit sometimes this nice trick. However, my personal feeling is that 
Mathematica  makes it considerably more often. Of coarse one can overcome this problem by a personal discipline 
by often saving notebook one works on. Therefore, I classify this problem as a secondary one though still important.

I place these notes in a strong hope that these problems may be fixed by Wolfram in future Mathematica versions.  

Best regards, Alexei

David Park wrote:


This can be approached at different levels.

First, I'm not familiar with the capabilities and pricing of the various
versions of Mathematica but, if you can manage it and plan to do a lot of
technical work, get up to date with the latest version and keep up to date.
There is a world of difference between Version 7 and Version 5. The dynamics
and improved graphics extend the ability to communicate by an order of
magnitude - or more.

At the present time, the single most serious problem with writing reports
and books in Mathematica is that people who do not have Mathematica can't
easily read them. There is PlayerPro but that cost about $200 and few people
will pay that just to read your paper or report. The free Player is a
partial solution but it is very restricted. You have to send it through some
process at WRI, you can't use an independent package with it, and you can't
write custom dynamics but are restricted to the single Manipulate statement.
I'm hoping that WRI will come up with a better solution to this, something
like the free Acrobat reader. We'll have to wait and see. You can "print" a
notebook as a PDF but that loses all the dynamics.

Other than that, Mathematica offers capabilities as a technical development
and communication medium that are far beyond present practice with static
media. I would even consider it as a new field, ripe for development. We
have a lot to learn on how to use the new capabilities Mathematica gives us.

You can easily add titles, subtitles, sections, subsections and text cells
to your notebooks. Each of these is a cell style. These are defined in the
various style sheets that Mathematica uses for the notebooks - for example,
the Default style sheet. I forget on which Menu item it occurs in Version 5,
but there is a Show Toolbar option that will add a toolbar at the top of
your notebook. It has a drop-down menu for starting various cell types. You
can also use Menu, Format, Style to see the various cell styles, and this
listing also gives the shortcut keys for those styles that have them.

Many users use Mathematica simply as a "programmable super graphical
calculator", without any sectional structure, but my opinion is that it is
much better to write notebooks as literate documents with structure and
plenty of textual explanation.

At a higher level you can use Workbench in conjunction with Mathematica to
write Applications that might contain a book, ancillary packages, and
documentation that ties it all together. Once you get it set up, you can do
most of your mathematical development and writing in the regular Mathematica
environment and only go to Workbench when you want to put material into a
"finished" form. This is a very good way to organize and preserve your work
in an active usable form, and to present it to other Mathematica users.

Roger Williams has done two YouTube videos on Mathematica as the latest
medium for technical communication. He traces over three millennia of
technical communication and illustrates all the advantages of the active,
dynamic medium that Mathematica is. (He had posted a version of this on
MathGroup earlier, but this is a new and much improved version.)

David Park
djmpark at <> 

From: "Per R=F8nne" [mailto:per at RQNNE.invalid]

I am the not quote happy owner of Mathematica Teacher's Edition [it
doesn't work on Snow Leopard] and I do now see a future need to write
reports / books using Mathematica - though of course I would then have
to purchase a new version like Mathematica Home Edition at ==A3195.

I do know that all of the Mathematica documentation is written in
Mathematica itself. But nowhere in this documentation do I see how to
enter ordinary text or chapter titles in a Mathematica notebook.

I have an MSc degree and teach in the Danish 3-year Sixth Form College
for the 16-19-year-olds. After the summer vacation next year I am to
take an extra BSc degree in Physics and Astronomy and this is where I
will need the ability to write reports in Mathematica, including text,
formulas and graphics.

So I am even considering to wait with the purchase of a new Mathematica
- after all the I've got version 5 from 2003, the present version is 7
and version 8 might have come then.

And - I don't even see anything particularly about the issue in Stephen
Wolfram's "The Mathematica Book 5th Edition". With 1,500 pages. Only a
few hints.
Per Erik R==F8nne
Errare humanum est, sed in errore perseverare turpe

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