Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Date Archive: 2007 August

Announcements & Events

And Now for Our Featured Presentation…

It’s been a few weeks since we returned from San Diego, after participating in SIGGRAPH 2007---one of the most prestigious conferences around for the computer graphics crowd. It’s no surprise how popular we’ve become there, considering that so many computer scientists, professional artists and enthusiasts use Mathematica to generate some of their most fascinating graphics. We were a big hit at the 2006 conference, with the then-upcoming Mathematica 6 in our hands. Its graphics and interactivity capabilities were stronger than ever and fit perfectly into the show. Encouraged by that success, we decided to raise the bar this year. But while preparing for the show, we had to answer one daunting question: how could we please an audience so accustomed to the fancy graphics, animations and effects of Hollywood? Well, the answer was obvious. Just do what Mathematica does best: working with mathematical formulas, generating algorithmic content, visualizing real-world data... These things are at the core of the system, and we knew they’d draw a lot of interest at SIGGRAPH.
Education & Academic

Back to School

My two high-schoolers constantly struggle with math and science. And every time I sit down to help them out, I get my own slightly sweaty flashback to my school days, reminded of how glad I am not to be dealing with homework and boring classes every day. With all the technological distractions available to kids now, it’s hard to get them to crack a book open. On the other hand, technology also offers the means to engross modern students in their classwork. Working on Mathematica makes that all too obvious to me, but after 17 years at Wolfram Research, I’ve been so close to and inside our development process that I’ve been taking the obvious for granted. Sure, once in a while I check the kids’ algebra homework using Solve. But sticking a computer in front of every student in a classroom is probably not the best way to engage them as a group. Engaging kids is going to get easier now with a combination of two things coming together, which a few of us got to preview at our recent Mathematica Publishing Day event in Oxford.
Computation & Analysis

Equations or Exploding Teapots?

This is not something I generally admit, but I have a couple of teenagers. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about having them, or what it says about my age, but rather that they are a bit embarrassed about having me. If you have some of your own, you understand. My point is this: I am a certified bore, and I have kids to prove it. With such a background it is understandable that I sometimes talk about arcane things like computational math. But (and this is important), even folks who live in that world need something to keep their attention. That is to say, just because a bunch of us are interested in the same topic does not mean we won’t bore one another to tears.
Education & Academic

Work in the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes (Trabajo en la Tierra de Lagos y Volcanes)

Most of the time I’ve spent working for Wolfram Research has been in the comfort of a climate-controlled office at our Champaign, Illinois headquarters. I’ve had easy access to my great co-workers, multiple computers and a Gigabit local network. I’ve had flexible working hours, a relatively short and pleasant bicycle commute, numerous delicious restaurants nearby and a window overlooking the beautiful campus of the University of Illinois (okay, and the roof of a McDonald’s). All things considered, it’s a pretty good place to be. When I told Theo (my boss) that I wanted to give all this up and spend a year living in a Nicaraguan jungle, there was a bit of hesitation, but not much. We agreed fairly quickly that we could make it work. Here’s where I was headed:
Education & Academic

The Equations of the Bridge

I work on computational algorithms for Mathematica, and I always like to see that what I do is helpful in solving real-world problems. When I heard about the I-35W bridge collapse, I wanted to see if anything could be learned from computing the mechanics of the bridge with Mathematica. Large packages have been written for doing structural computations with Mathematica. But I wanted to start from first principles to try to understand the whole picture. A truss bridge can be thought of as a graph, with trusses as edges and joints as nodes, as in the picture here:
Announcements & Events

The Space of All Possible Bridge Shapes

When I hear about something like Wednesday’s bridge collapse, I immediately wonder whether any of the science I’ve worked on can be of any help. Bridge design is one of the classic—almost iconic—successes of traditional mathematical science. And when I first talked about A New Kind of Science, a not uncommon reaction was precisely, “But […]

Announcements & Events

Taking Control of Mathematica

Who would think you could get so much work done just by twiddling your thumbs? Mathematica 6 brings with it a host of new ways to interact with your output. Want to set up an arbitrary number of parameters and explore their multi-dimensional space? That’s trivial to do with the Manipulate function. However, once you start exploring this space, you immediately realize that your exploration is restricted by the mouse pointer. There’s only one pointer on the screen. It can only interact with one control (slider, checkbox or whatever) at a time. Fortunately, hardware developers realized long ago---long before multi-touch interfaces like Apple’s iPhone, which are in vogue at the moment---that most people have 10 fingers and so in theory can access many more degrees of freedom than the two degrees provided by a typical mouse. Enter the gamepad.