Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Date Archive: 2007 June

Design & Visualization

The Elements of Video Production in Mathematica

A little hobby of mine is collecting and photographing the chemical elements. I have them all (except those that break the laws of man or physics). This is the photographic periodic table poster I sell: My poster and related imagery can be seen in several TV shows, and most recently staff at the venerable NOVA science series emailed asking for permission to use my poster image in an upcoming show about metals. They wanted to pan and zoom over it, starting wide and then focusing down onto a few individual elements. I said, “Fine, but I have something I think you’ll like even better... How about a video where every one of those samples is rotating in place?” And here is that video. What does any of this have to do with Mathematica? That video, and the more complex ones below, are directly output from Mathematica without any processing in traditional video editing tools.
Announcements & Events

Vista Seems to Be on Everyone’s Mind This Summer

As someone who works with university software groups to maintain Mathematica site licenses, I’m not surprised that Windows Vista compatibility is such a common topic of conversation. After all, this is the season for setting up computer labs for the upcoming academic year, and Windows is quite the popular platform. What does surprise me is the tone of these conversations. The questions during Vista testing started pouring in during the spring and fall semesters, and continued this summer. Inquiries have a slightly weary, mildly suspicious tone and start with questions like, “What’s the story with Mathematica on Vista?” Or, “When will Mathematica be compatible with Vista, and what limitations should we keep in mind?” A few schools even asked the exact same questions about compatibility twice in consecutive weeks! Clearly a complicated answer is expected here. But the answer, for Mathematica at least, has been very simple since Vista’s early-spring release.
Announcements & Events

Mathematica’s True Colors

We can’t emphasize enough how important colors are in scientific visualization. Colors can convey the information which cannot be represented by geometry only. Sometimes, the data is just unreadable without proper colors in place. Most of all, colors can make graphics and plots more attractive and appealing. In previous versions of Mathematica, it was not always easy to pick the right colors or color functions. Probably, you would end up playing with the values of RGBColor or Hue, which can be both tedious and time consuming. During the development of Mathematica 6, we committed to change this situation. First off, we made---among dozens of newly added controls---a few specifically dedicated to color input.
Announcements & Events

Summer is Here (Make Room for the Interns)

Summer begins, officially, around June 21. Here at Wolfram Research it actually begins when the interns start to arrive. As we released Version 6 of our flagship Mathematica software less than two months ago, we’re still collectively exhaling, yet at the same time breathing in hard to keep up with these youthful, faster folk. No easy feat, unless you happen to be a trumpet player. A summer here at our headquarters in Champaign, Illinois, can find anywhere from 5 to 25 or so interns. They range in level from late high school to graduate school, as young as 15 and as old as 40-something. And we’re always on the hunt for new ones (apply on our website if interested). Where do they come from? I believe our interns have hailed from all six naturally inhabited continents, as well as several major island groups. Most are now residing in North America for their studies, though some have traveled from farther away. What do we do with these interns? Well, by law, we cannot eat them (even if we could manage to catch one). Instead we find it useful to put them to work on a variety of tasks, based on individual educational background and experience.
Announcements & Events

Symbolic Programming: Computationally Active Language

In this blog and elsewhere, you’ll often see the statement that some advanced Mathematica feature is just another application of symbolic programming. It’s the kind of idea that seems too powerful to explain in a single blog post, yet simple enough that I am tempted to try. So, here goes. Symbolic programming is based on the concept of recasting core features of human language into a computationally active form. What does it mean to have a human-language-oriented programming language? Our cognitive model of computation is typically a three-stage process: 1) describing the computation; 2) executing that description; and 3) outputting the results. The “language” part of most programming languages begins and ends with stage one. Linguistic structures are erected to describe the program. But the execution of the program is typically oriented around an entirely different system of types and objects; and likewise, the program’s output structure tends to resemble nothing particularly language-like. Symbolic programming uses linguistic structures as the foundation of all aspects of computation. From a computation’s description, to how the computation executes, to how humans interface with the results, the exact same basic tree structure is used throughout. This is a powerful unification, making possible many useful computations that in other systems range from cumbersome to practically impossible. We’ll see examples along the way, but let me first describe what these linguistic structures actually are.

In Mathematica, Pictures Are Worth a Thousand Words

One of the challenges of developing Mathematica is resisting the urge to spend all my time playing with the graphics toys I create. A lot of what I do results in features so fun to explore that they jeopardize the further development of Mathematica. I’d like to point out a few of them in this blog, starting with a simple but profound change in the behavior of Mathematica graphics: direct graphics output. In previous versions of Mathematica, the result of a Plot or other graphics command was the abbreviated form  - Graphics -  that represented the symbolic output. The actual graphical image itself was spit out like a watermelon seed as a side-effect of the evaluation and was not associated with the symbolic output. In Mathematica 6, the output and the image are one and the same, behavior we call “direct output” to contrast it with the “side-effect output” of previous versions. This simple change in behavior underlies much of the interesting new functionality in Version 6.
Computation & Analysis

Our First Russian Student Competition

In April, we invited high-school and college students in Russia to participate in a Mathematica competition. We gave the students a week to answer a set of seven Mathematica questions. The response was great, with submissions coming in from all across the country. The first-place winner was Vladimir Dudchenko, an undergraduate student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT). He correctly solved all seven competition problems and displayed remarkable ingenuity and skill in his use of Mathematica. In addition to a student copy of Mathematica 6, Vladimir won a new MacBook Pro, a top-of-the-line machine donated by Apple and DPI Computers (Apple’s partner in Russia).