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Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!

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  • Subject: [mg130775] Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!
  • From: "djmpark" <djmpark at>
  • Date: Mon, 13 May 2013 03:50:03 -0400 (EDT)
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That is not the way to gain new customers. It is just adding doo-dads,
usually in a confusing and insufficient manner. Sometimes less is more if
the less is workable and the more is not.

Think of the various types of calligraphy. The tools are very simple and
limited and yet what beautiful results can be produced! But the tools have
to work and not be continually presenting problems or unnecessary choices to
the artist. What even more beautiful results could be produced with
Mathematica - if the basic interface allows the writer to concentrate on his
or her ideas.

Mathematica cannot directly provide all mathematical services because there
are just too many possibilities and the people at WRI are not expert enough
in all areas and do not have the time or experience. Many useful
applications will be specialized in some respects but will have many extra
convenience routines for the particular application. WRI has to concentrate
on providing core routines both for mathematical calculation and basic
presentation constructs. It may be difficult to decide what should be a core
routine, but just adding on things willy-nilly is not likely to succeed.
Good add-on Applications should be a basic mechanism for extending
Mathematica. WRI does an extremely poor job at explaining how to write
Applications and the Workbench support is only barely adequate. (I do have a
rather extended discussion on writing Applications in the Presentations
Application, including where to put them, how to set up folder structures,
and how to provide certain and convenient access for users - for those who
might be interested.)

The entry point for input to a Mathematica notebook should be absolutely
CLEAN with NOTHING there except what has already been entered and the entry
point. If the writer needs assistance he should request it. Without
requesting help it should be invisible. The basic methods for requesting
assistance should be hot keys or the right click context menu, or possibly
the Mathematica Menu. Why couldn't Wolfram Alpha be on the context menu
instead of an in-your-face doo-dad button on every new Input cell, which
also appears and often gets in the way of text in created windows? Some of
the choices there are already on the context menu. And there is a
WolframAlpha routine. And you can also get it just by typing ==. I wonder
what percentage of Input cells become WolframAlpha? It is a nice but
occasional feature. It isn't worth sacrificing a clean interface when there
are so many easy alternatives.

WRI already makes a fair use of the context menu and they could make even
better use. In Windows one can right click within a folder and get a New
entry on the context menu. One of the new items that can be created is a
Mathematica Notebook. It would be very nice if they could add a Mathematica
Package to the list. (Maybe Microsoft creates the list from installed
applications and WRI can't control it? Or can't set .m files as a file
type?) Once one has set up a proper Application structure it is really easy
to write packages. Getting the package in the right place is another little
speed bump that deters writers. In Input cells the context menu has an
"Insert Special Character..." entry. This would also be useful in Text and
text like cells, where it is missing. It would be nice if spell checking was
on the context menu for Text cells and the various Section cells - to just
check those selections.

As for the Suggestions Bar after output, I think it is rather dubious for
most writers to have WRI rewrite their code. But I recall that one poster
said he liked it because it reminded or introduced him to routines that he
was unaware of. Which suggests that a really useful feature would be
somewhat different. Why not have a "See Also" context menu entry for Input
cells that brought up a list of relevant routines and links to their
Function pages. This kind of targeted and selected shortcut into Help would
be quite useful.

One built-in feature of Mathematica that seems inadequate to me is Grid for
constructing tables. I wonder how many people use Mathematica to write
custom tables, say with blocks with different background colors, and special
dividers and fonts and things like that. Tables are an important method of
conveying technical information and I wonder if the difficult Grid
construction dominated by Option programming mitigates against using
Mathematica as a communication medium.

It would also be interesting to know how much use the new "add-on" features
such as units and tensor get. It would be nice to hear positive or negative

Although I'm a heavy user of Mathematica, I may not be typical and my
suggestions might be off the mark or just plain incorrect. Nevertheless I
think public discussion of where Mathematica should go can only be helpful.

David Park
djmpark at 

From: Murray Eisenberg [mailto:murray at] 

As a possible, simple-minded explanation of what WRI is up to: surely
they're faced at any given time with a given customer base. To gain new
customers, they need to add new areas of applicability, whether through
adding them directly to Mathematica or by creating new Mathematica-based

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